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Northampton police stop ‘high five’ program with students amid concerns

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Police in Northampton have put on hold a free program where officers greeted students with high-fives as they arrived at elementary school on Fridays, citing concerns about the presence of officers.

In a Facebook message posted Saturday, police said they stopped the “High Five Friday” initiative after some people said they feared “some kids might respond negatively to a group of uniformed officers at their school.”

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“People were specifically concerned about kids of color, undocumented children, or any children who may have had negative experiences with the police,” the post stated. “[Police] 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.”

Police got the idea for the “High Five Friday” program after it was presented at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in San Diego last fall, according to the department’s Facebook post.

After pitching it to school officials, the department received the blessing of Northampton Superintendent John A. Provost.

The weekly program began in December, and police documented their interactions with students on social media.

“Everyone was on board,” police wrote on Facebook. “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.”

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But police said they began to hear “a few concerns” about the program, and were asked to halt their visits after a meeting with the Northampton School Committee, where issues were raised “that not all kids may feel comfortable with a police presence at the beginning of their school day.”

In an ensuing public meeting with 12 to 15 people, additional worries were shared, police said.

“For a large portion of our population this program may not seem controversial,” police wrote. “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.”

The police chief, Jody Kasper, was not immediately available for comment.

Provost said that potential ideas to replace “High Five Fridays” have been discussed, but no decisions have been made. Provost said he plans to meet with Kasper on March 14.

“The program has been paused while we investigate other options to make the goal of providing students with positive interactions with police more effective,” Provost said.

While the program has been put on hold, police said those who want to show support for police can still greet them while on the job.

“Luckily, we still accept high fives, low fives, and fist bumps,” police said.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.



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