Gloucester, MA — Police Chief Leonard Campanello has been called a hero, a savior, and an innovator for opposing the war on drugs — implementing a program to assist addicts in his town — instead of arresting them and ruining their lives.
But he was just fired — under exceedingly vague circumstances.
“The war on drugs is over,” Campanello previously declared in an interview. “And we lost. There is no way we can arrest our way out of this. We’ve been trying that for 50 years. We’ve been fighting it for 50 years, and the only thing that has happened is heroin has become cheaper and more people are dying.”
Gloucester experienced an epidemic of heroin overdoses and addiction was rampant, until the chief came up with a spontaneous plan — allow anyone with a heroin addiction to walk into the police station, drugs and paraphernalia in hand, and assist them in getting help. No arrest necessary.
“If you are a user of opiates or heroin, let us help you,” Campanello implored in a post to Facebook following news of yet another heroin overdose. “We know you do not want this addiction. We have resources here in the City that can and will make a difference in your life. Do not become a statistic.”
Campanello saw that, although drugs were ravaging his city, the drug war — raiding homes, arresting addicts, locking people up who really just needed help — also had deleterious consequences, and did nothing to solve the issue.
He contacted the mayor and together they crafted the Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I.) — since affectionately dubbed the Angel Program — to refer anyone who sought help to the appropriate treatment centers. After working out the details, the chief again took to Facebook in May 2015 to announce the plan, which would later be copied in at least 20 other departments around the country:
“Any addict who walks into the police station with the remainder of their drug equipment (needles, etc) or drugs and asks for help will NOT be charged. Instead we will walk them through the system toward detox and recovery. We will assign them an ‘angel’ who will be their guide through the process. Not in hours or days, but on the spot.”
By the middle of August, as The Free Thought Project reported, Campanello’s program had helped no less than 109 addicts. His efforts were even recognized by President Obama and, last year, was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change.”
Everything seemed to be going well — until Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken fired Campanello on Monday for reasons that aren’t yet entirely clear, but have nothing to do with his job performance.
“I’ve lost confidence in Chief Leonard Campanello as a result of his actions,” Theken told the media on Monday. “Chief Campanello’s actions are unethical and entirely unacceptable.”
Neither Theken nor an attorney representing the city would not go into detail about the termination, except to say it involved two unidentified women who had a ‘relationship’ with Campanello and they “may have been in fear for their safety.”
City officials had been investigating unspecified “disturbing allegations” against the chief by the two unknown women, and had sought his cell phone for putative evidence. Campanello told investigators to procure the phone from his Gloucester Police Department office, but they reportedly claimed they could not locate it.
Campanello’s attorney, Terrence Kennedy, “then said he had received a package, with a return address for the Gloucester Police station, with the phone, and Campanello ‘suggested’ that someone must have broken into his office, city officials said,” reported the Boston Herald.
“All of the ‘contents of any communications’ on the phone had been erased and ‘tampered with,’ officials said.”
Unnamed city officials, however, claim they have surveillance footage of Campanello sending the phone from a post office in a neighboring town and the allegations someone broke into his office were fabricated.
In a statement, Theken asserted, “The Mayor has lost confidence in Chief Campanello as a result of his actions, in destroying evidence contained in the cell phone and especially in deceiving the city by suggesting that other employees of the Gloucester Police Department had broken into his office.”
Beyond those vague explanations, no further information has been provided by the mayor’s office or the Gloucester Police Department for why the nationally-renowned and beloved chief has been sacked.
Campanello had been placed on paid leave earlier this month as officials conducted an investigation. Both Campanello and his attorney have likened the mayor’s probe to a ‘witch hunt’ and ‘fishing expedition.’
“The chief intends to hold the city to its contractual obligation,” Kennedy told the Herald, adding Campanello intends to challenge the termination. “This investigation has been witch hunt from the beginning and the reasons given by the city for terminating the contract had nothing to do with the original inquiry they were conducting.”
Considering politicians and police unions nationwide tend to ostracize officers who take a vocal stand against the disastrous drug war, the mayor’s imprecise and ambiguous reasoning for firing Campanello appears incongruous.
Theken did vow to continue Angel Program — which Kennedy said has helped more than 500 people since its inception last year.