A Massachusetts police department that went into elementary schools every Friday to "positively engage" with students by giving them high-fives has discontinued the program after residents said it might scare away their children, especially those who have not had any positive experiences with law enforcement.
Northampton police ended the program, called "High-Five Friday," Saturday. It started in December as a means to establish good relationships with youth in the community located about 105 miles west of Boston.
“The concept involves police officers welcoming kids to school and giving them high fives on Friday mornings before school begins. It was presented as an inexpensive (aka free) way for police officers to positively engage with youth in their communities and to show support for local schools,” the police department wrote on its Facebook page Saturday.
However, residents said that some children, particularly minorities and undocumented immigrants, might not be comfortable with the idea of being greeted by police at school every Friday morning.
“Concerns were shared that some kids might respond negatively to a group of uniformed officers at their school,” the department said in on its Facebook page. "People were specifically concerned about kids of color, undocumented children, or any children who may have had negative experiences with the police."
Approximately 90 percent of Northampton's 30,000 residents are white, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper was invited to address the concerns at a school committee meeting “to explain the program and to field questions” Jan. 12. But after a follow-up meeting with residents, Superintendent John Provost asked that the program be suspended.
"We thought it was a great way to start building relationships with young kids," Kasper told The Daily Hampshire Gazette. "We liked that it was something that was seemingly — seemingly — simple, but has turned out not to be."
When the program first began, it was greeted warmly across the board, according to Northampton police, which called the reversal "a little bit frustrating."
However, there were apparently no hard feelings. "Luckily, we still accept high fives, low fives, and fist bumps. If you see any of us out there on the streets, feel free to ask for one!" the department wrote on Facebook.