A new Gloucester police unit will be focusing on improving the quality of life for the community through outreach and collaboration.
The Gloucester Police Department, in collaboration with the city's Health Department, has created the Community Impact Unit to take the place of its Angel Program as they seek to assist those dealing with all forms of addiction across Cape Ann.
"The whole focus of the unit is to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Gloucester," said Lt. Jeremiah Nicastro, who is in charge of the new unit.
Besides Nicastro, the unit leadership team's is Community Health Navigator Tito Rodriguez, two school resource officers, and a mental health clinician.
The unit will also oversee animal control, traffic division, Kops-n-Kids and firearms licensing.
"A person who is suffering from opioid addiction may have a mental health issue, a housing issue, or may not be able to provide groceries for his family," Nicastro explained. "All of that needs to be taken into consideration when helping somebody improve their quality of life."
"Addressing the opioid addiction is just one piece of the pie," he added.
The idea for the new unit came from Gloucester police Chief Ed Conley based on his past experience as a Chelsea police officer.
In trying to combat addiction and violence within Chelsea, Conley explained police were looking for alternate paths to incarceration for those they dealt with.
"We learned pretty early on that the key to solving those bigger systemic problems is by partnering with community organizations that do it full-time and have more depth to problem solve some of these things," Conley explained of his time on Chelsea's police force.
When Conley came to Gloucester last April, the new chief understood the seaside community to be committed to caring for residents with a history of addiction.
"This community has a long history of looking out for each other," he said.
The Angel Program was in place when Conley arrived, created by former police Chief Leonard Campanello. However, the new chief saw the need for services that stretched much further than opioid addiction.
"We needed to expand our efforts around substance abuse," Conley said about creating the new unit. "The Angel Program was our first attempt of addressing the increase of overdose deaths. It was our first stab at it."
Conley identified a hole that the Angel Program had in the puzzle of the city's addiction recovery services — it focused on those struggling from opioid addiction — and sought to fill it with a formalized structure within the Police Department that focused on all addictions.
Thus, the Community Impact Unit was created, to help those whose lives may be unraveling because of their addictions.
"It was important that, first of all, this work gets done and, secondly, that we create formal structure and lines of accountability to make sure that the work gets done, because if you don't do that the work is only getting done because of the personalities that are there," Conley explained.
COVID-19 limiting contact
Now open with an office at Brown's Mall on Main Street, the Community Impact Unit is working to create policy and procedure for how it functions, cares for community members who might be working through various addictions, and collaborates with other programs and organizations to diversify its connections to the community.
Tito Rodriguez, a former employee of the Angel Program, will be connecting people who struggle with addiction to services and referrals in his new role as community health navigator.
"I'm honored and humbled to have been given the opportunity and I think we are going to develop a sound model that is going to change the way community policing is," Rodriguez said.
Conley sees this new unit as a needed change as police work to collaborate with organizations ranging from the office of Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett, to the human service agencies The Open Door and Action Inc.
"The Angel Program was on its own island," Conley explained. "We want to be far more inclusive and make sure that everyone has a seat at the table and has a part to play in the success of the health of the community."
Those seeking help from the Community Impact Unit for substance use disorders should call the police station at 978-283-1212 during the coronavirus pandemic.
"Due to the COVID-19, we are limiting the amount of person-to-person contact which includes the community impact unit and the police station," Nicastro said. "We will handle as much as we can over the phone to limit the spread of the virus."
"We are still helping our community," Nicastro emphasized.
Staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.