‘High Five Friday’ program makes a crucial connection
Friday, March 31, 2017
My grandfather immigrated to the United States as a not-quite-yet teenager with his near dozen siblings and his only parent, my great grandmother. Like many immigrants, he struggled to learn English and understand a new culture.
Shortly after his arrival, he lost his mother. He then left his home and worked his way west. After a stint as a rancher and cowboy in Montana, he joined the thousands of other immigrants from all over the world in working the mineral mines in Butte, Montana.
The community was raucous, rough and often violent. His sons — one of them my father — came of age during the height of this often brutal culture. It was not until I was an adult that I heard many of the stories.
Several stories included the relationship my grandfather had with the local police and how the police — having a knowledge and familiarity with the family including trust and respect in the discipline within my father's home — had prevented what could have been long-term incarceration or worse for members of his family.
There were stories of my father and his friends having frequent rides in squad cars and at least one tough-love night in jail. Officers in previous generations often knew entire families' members by name.
Thus, I was pleased to hear about the recent effort to capture aspects of this type of familiarity and tepid trust between the families, teenagers and children and the Massachusetts law enforcement community in an event called "High Five Friday." My immediate reaction was that this was such a wonderful means to reduce the fear of police that has existed among all populations, including immigrants, for over a century.
On March 24, the day was celebrated by 38 Massachusetts communities, including, Plymouth, Walpole, Attleboro, Yarmouth, Duxbury and Wareham.
The "High Five Friday" community outreach program has as a goal to build trust between law enforcement and students by the simple engagement of greeting students with high fives as they enter their schools. This idea was embraced by school administrators across the state.
"The event was truly satisfying and overwhelming for the involved officers, and we so much appreciated the enthusiasm shown by the students and faculty of Minot Forest and Decas School," Wareham Police Chief Kevin Walsh told Wareham Week.
"We were very happy to host Wareham's finest today," Minot Forest Principal Joan Seamans said. John Thayer of the Walpole police added, "We want to break that stigma of when the police show up something wrong is going on. We want to be there for the kids."
But not all communities have embraced the police officer engagement of High Five Friday.
The town of Northampton had the officers greeting student with high fives during the month of December. In January the city's police chief, Jody Kasper, had heard from a small number of parents who felt their children were experiencing difficulties with just the presence of the police and were not comfortable. Kasper, in consultation with the school superintendent John Provost, discontinued the program.
"Certainly we do not want to have our officers at a school and have kids, even if it’s a handful of kids, be traumatized and have a negative experience with our officers," Kasper told The New York Times.
"We would just wait for the children to get off the bus, and we'd high five them if they wanted one when they came off the bus, and they'd go about their day and we’d leave afterwards," Captain John Cartledge of the Northhampton Police Department told CBS Boston. Cartledge wanted it understood that the department has assured the public that their officers will "still accept high fives, low fives, and fist bumps" if you see them out on the street.
The department's Facepage expanded on the topic:
"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!"
All families struggle with raising their children. With so many outside influences beyond a parent's control, it is critical to use those influences that can be positive. Trying to minimize the serious negative influences on children and teenagers can be means to prevent poor and potentially deadly consequences.
Giving children, teenagers and families the confidence to approach a law enforcement officer without fear, but with some trust is tool to last a lifetime. Perhaps the touch from a simple high five can prevent the more brutal touch of being shoved into the backseat of a squad car.
Unlike in previous decades, the squad car ride is not likely to be to your own home — particularly if the officers involved know nothing positive about you or family.
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