Cape Cod Police Opt Out Of Police-Assisted Addiction Program

By Zachary Siegel 03/11/16

Cape Cod officials' main issue with the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative is that it grants immunity to those caught with drugs in their possession.

Cape Cod Police Opt Out Of Police-Assisted Addiction Program
photo via Shutterstock

Around the country, police departments are adopting novel tactics to fast-track drug users into treatment and other public health services rather than arrest them.

On Monday, several Massachusetts police chiefs and lawmakers gathered in Boston to mull over a bill designed to do exactly that. The bill in question is an amendment to the 2011 Good Samaritan Law, which gives drug users immunity for small amounts of drug possession in an overdose situation.

While many stood in favor of the bill, several others remained opposed. The Cape Cod Times reports that most police chiefs across Massachusetts, especially on Cape Cod, have decided not to adopt the city of Gloucester’s Angel Program—which has gained national attention for its law enforcement policy of guiding individuals to treatment without legal repercussions. Under the program, drug users who seek help from police will not be arrested. After an intake process, officers find a detox or treatment facility for the person seeking help.

According to Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello, who spearheaded the project in the city nine months ago, more than 400 people have been placed in treatment or detox through the program. Property crime in Gloucester has also dropped by a third. Campanello is the mastermind behind PAARI—Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative—which supports local police departments that wish to adopt similar policies.

While the program has been touted as revolutionary, the main dispute that law enforcement officials have against PAARI is the language in Gloucester's program that effectively grants immunity to individuals who possess drugs. “An explicit promise not to charge a person who unlawfully possesses drugs may amount to a charging promise that you lack legal authority to make,” Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett wrote in a letter to Campanello when the Angel Program was implemented.

Police chiefs oppose it because it takes away arresting authority for drug possession, when sometimes arrest is the best option for a drug user who won’t get treatment otherwise, said Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson.

Frederickson continued, “The idea of a police department operating as a referral agency seems over-complicated. It should be out of police hands. There are other requirements for police to be working on.”

Campanello and his team agreed to amend the language of the bill—so instead of saying an individual “shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance,” it will read “may not be charged.” This is to assure that police officers still have discretion on when to make an arrest.

While police departments in the Bay State have not been adopting Gloucester’s model as such, some have instead teamed up with recovery coaches to help overdose victims and their families—doing follow-up visits to overdose victims and people who have encountered police due to mental health issues.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.