Northampton Police stops program with elementary schools

BY NICOLE VILLACRÉS

The Northampton Police Department has ended their “High Five Friday” program, in which a group of officers would rotate between the four elementary schools every Friday to welcome kids to school. The NPD initiated the program in December of 2016 to foster positive encounters between police and young children. The program was shut down due to parents’ concerns about the presence of officers and the effect it might have on their children, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

“People were specifically concerned about kids of color, undocumented children or any children who may have had negative experiences with the police,” stated a post on the police department’s Facebook page.

Jody Kasper, the NPD police chief, noted that most of the responses they received regarding the program were positive, but she felt the department needed to listen to anyone who expressed differing opinions. “One of the things we’re all learning in our current climate is [that] we need to listen to other people and hear what they’re saying,” Kasper said, as quoted in the New York Times.

Some who responded positively to the program are now taking to the department’s Facebook page with angry comments, frustrated by the loss of the program. It is important to note that white individuals are more than twice as likely to say that police use an appropriate amount of force, treat racial groups equally and are held accountable for misconduct, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center. Northampton has a population of about 28,000 and was about 87 percent white in 2015, according to the New York Times.

Supporters of ending the program have noted that the higher numbers of positive responses than negative may derive from the discomfort with police involvement.

“You may be getting positive feedback but it may be really difficult for people who are having a negative reaction to come to you and say, ‘It really upset my child to come to school and see the police because the police have been at our house three times this month,’” said Laura Fallon, Ward 2 committee member, according to the Hampshire Gazette.

Ultimately, the decision about the program came down to its potential effects on Northampton children’s education. “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,” said a statement released on the NPD Facebook page.

Efforts to improve police relations with the community come from building racial tensions due to multiple racialized and high-profile confrontations. Another effort to improve relations went awry last summer when police in Halifax, Virginia pulled over drivers to give away free ice cream. A video went viral of a black woman breaking out into tears after the officer informs her that she had not committed a traffic violation.

“In an attempt to better relations with community and police officers, the video does the exact opposite. It further highlights the fear that black people carry with them the moment they see flashing lights in their rearview mirror ... It’s also dangerous to stop a driver for no apparent reason other than to show how ‘good’ a cop one is. It’s tone-deaf and out of touch with our reality and experiences as black people,” wrote Preston Mitchum for the Root.

High Five Friday was critiqued in a similar vein by parent Gina Nortonsmith, who said the program had good intentions but was “ill-considered, tone-deaf and potentially damaging,” according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Chief Kasper and the school superintendent have a meeting scheduled to discuss possible next steps, according to the Boston CBS Local.

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