GLOUCESTER (CBS) – As our country reels from the violent, tragic killing of George Floyd, police departments everywhere feel desperate to connect with their communities. In Gloucester, they started by opening their department door.
“When that did happen, my kids asked me several questions about racism and police violence. If my kids are asking me those questions, then all kids are asking their parents questions,” said Gloucester Police Lt. Jeremiah Nicastro.
One of their first visitors was an 11-year-old named Gavin. He’s heading to sixth grade in the fall, and had some questions about the things he sees on the news and social media.
“He came in, he sat right in that chair. We talked about racism, we talked about police brutality. We talked about the protests. I was in agreement with everything he said. I think he just wanted to clear the air,” Nicastro added.
“Knowing none of the officers in Gloucester would do that and that they’re on my side – the protesters’ side,” Gavin explained.
Now the department is taking it a step further by meeting kids where they’re at: playing video games. They talked to parents in town and decided on a Fortnite tournament. Police had some reservations about violence in the game, but talked with families and determined a lot of kids are already playing it anyway.
“Covid-19 gave us this unique opportunity to look at other ways to connect with the kids. We got 100 followers and 30 kids in a game with us right now. It’s awesome. What more could you ask for?” said school resource officer Mike Scola.
The trial program is giving kids a chance to see police aren’t that good at video games.
“You just saw, I was eliminated in two minutes,” school resource officer Peter Sutera said laughing. “They obviously have the upper hand.”
And that they’re also regular people.
“The uniform is an intimidating thing, I get that. We want people to see what’s underneath the uniform. We are human beings too, and we are their friends,” Nicastro said.
Gloucester Police’s ‘Kops N Kids’ program began five years ago, with the goal of changing children’s perception of police. Officers understood many first encounters with police happen during crisis: accidents, violence, crimes, or medical emergencies. Officers visit the town’s five elementary schools several times a year, and often drop in to recess, gym, and field days. The school resource officers also host floor hockey, volleyball, and other tournaments during school vacation weeks.