‘High fives’ from police too hot for a community

The police in Northampton, Mass., found out the hard way that even the best of intentions can be a problem.

They instituted “High Five Friday” in December. Once a week, officers would show up at one of the city’s elementary schools and give the kids “high fives” on their way into school.

Judging by some letters and cards posted by the department on its Facebook page, kids seemed to like it fine.

But High Five Friday is over.

The department has now posted on its Facebook page that it’s ending the program over concern about its impact on children “who may have had negative experiences with the police.”

We are aware that there is an article circulating through social media related to NPD’s High Five Friday program. There are several components of the article that are false. We’re not going to address each of them. Instead, we wanted to take a moment to provide some facts about the program and how it started and stopped in Northampton.

The High Five Friday program was presented at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference in San Diego last fall. 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. We loved the idea! We reached out to Superintendent Provost and asked him if he would support the program and if he would communicate with the four Northampton elementary school principals to see if they were interested in having us visit once a month on a Friday.

Everyone was on board. Principals and teachers communicated the High Five Friday plan to staff, students, and families. We went to all of the elementary schools, exchanged high fives, and even snuck in some playground time with kids.

While we received a lot of support on social media, we also heard a few concerns about the program. Chief Kasper was invited to attend a school committee meeting to explain the program and to field questions.

During that meeting, a concern was raised that not all kids may feel comfortable with a police presence at the beginning of their school day. Others questioned the long-term impacts of the program and wondered if it was truly valuable. Shortly after the meeting, NPD was asked to pause the program, which we did.

Chief Kasper was then invited to attend a follow-up meeting with members of the public to discuss High Five Fridays. About 12-15 people attended the meeting. Concerns were shared that some kids might respond negatively to a group of uniformed officers at their school.

People were specifically concerned about kids of color, undocumented children, or any children who may have had negative experiences with the police. After the meeting, Chief Kasper and Superintendent Provost spoke and decided to stop the High Five Friday, but they remain committed to exploring alternative programs.

NPD really enjoyed greeting kids as they arrived at school. But, as much as we enjoyed the visits, we also took time to listen to the thoughts of some school committee members, school staff, and past and present parents/families.

For a large portion of our population this program may not seem controversial. However, we cannot overlook the fact that this program may be received differently by some members of our community. Most importantly, we want kids to arrive at school enthusiastic and ready to learn!

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!

“I could see how some families wouldn’t be comfortable with it,” parent Joy Ohm tells the Hampshire Gazette. “I don’t know what the process was but it seems like they should’ve consulted the community first.”

“I was fine with it,” her 10-year-old daughter said.

The story has set social media aflame after an unidentified blogger wrote a post with several fallacies and made-up quotes.

The school superintendent is trying to calm the reaction.

“I have had many conversations with parents and community members with diverse opinions about the program,” superintendent John Provost said. “I have found all of those conversations to be positive and productive. It dismays me that much of the online discussion has been so hurtful. Children learn by observing adult behavior.”

  • KariBemidji

    The lesson for today, via NewsCut, is that adults need to get out of the way.

  • Will

    This is why we can’t have nice things…An outreach program that makes people more comfortable with police interaction must be stopped because some people are uncomfortable with police interaction. Wow, what is going on?

    • It makes some people more comfortable. The chances are there wasn’t enough discussion beforehand to call attention to the possibility that there’s real trauma experienced by some kids and whether there’s a better way to accomplish the ideal.

      That’s the message of the school superintendent, by the way. And the police chief also acknowledged that after listening to some of the concerns, they decided to not do it and to consider something else.

      Sometimes there are other perspectives that we don’t consider because we can’t put ourselves in other people’s position to be able to cosnider that there’s another view besides our own.

      Sure, it sounds whacked out, but we have to at least consider that the reason it does is because we have pretty stable lives with a minum of trauma.

      If only that were true for all kids.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        Exactly. We have seen over the last several years that whether it is true or not, if you look the part, you play the part. In this case it is the good officers of the NPD who are seen, just for who they are, as a potential threat by some of these kids.

        • Sam M

          Well how do we fix that then? It seems to me ending something like this doesn’t exactly do much to help.

          • Jack Ungerleider

            Actually it might. If the Police are seen to recognize the potential issue with some members of the community then that can be the start of figuring out, together, how to fix the problem for both sides. Once those steps are taken then maybe the program comes back, because it becomes what it is intended to be.

          • Sam M

            Why don’t we talk to the kids about why they are good too? Keeping parties apart doesn’t usually solve problems. Running opposite directions like we have I. Politics hasn’t served this country well.

          • Jack Ungerleider

            What you want should be part of the process. As is stated in the featured comment, this isn’t about politics, it is about when the uniform first enters a kids life. For some kids its early and its associated with bad things happening to their family. They develop a fear that is real. They will need help to work through that fear and get past it.

          • Sam M

            That makes sense and that is horrible for those kids. I guess my point is we need to proactively work with those kids in other ways that fear will always be there. Just making the program go away doesn’t help the child long-term.

          • As the chief said, they’re meeting in a couple of weeks to come up with another plan.

      • Will

        At some point we have to let kids deal with life. Let them have some positive police interaction, the same logic being used to shutdown this program is the same logic that segregationists used in the South in the 1960s… I’m uncomfortable with that group so they can’t interact with my kids.

        • Well, the superintendent pretty well pointed out that the online world doesn’t really know what the logic was in this case because they haven’t talked to anyone in Northampton or been part of the discussion that called attention to the possible problems that the program was or may have created.

          If it wasn’t this that was getting people stirred up, it’d be participation trophies.

        • Gary F

          Its just a high five. No frisking, no interrogation, just a high five and a smile. It will never get better if can’t get past this.

          • Maybe kids don’t know it’s JUST a high five.

            Hey, some people are afraid of clowns.

  • Robert Moffitt

    I have no words.

  • Anne

    I’m a foster/adoptive mom and a lot of my foster kids have been terrified by the police. Because even if they were there to help… the police were present at the worst moments in their young lives.

    For an example: we once had to leave a Veteran’s Day event, because the cop directing traffic triggered a panic attack for my son. Thankfully, time, an excellent therapist and a friendship with an understanding police chief have helped my kid’s PTSD… But when he was a kindergartener, that “just a high five” would have meant a lot of missed school.

  • It’s interesting to read the comments here and compare them to the ones attached to the post about a couple of teachers — we are talking school, after all — who did essentially the same thing and people were all “we should stop trying to be kids friends and be authorities instead.”

    Funny, they have a different opinion now. I wonder what the difference was in those two stories?