Gloucester police launch weekly gaming night to maintain youth outreach during pandemic

GLOUCESTER, Mass. — Gloucester police have found a unique way to maintain their positive relationships with youth amid the coronavirus pandemic by launching a weekly gaming night that has attracted hundreds of kids.

S.R.O. Gaming, featuring tournaments of popular games Fortnite and Roblox, is run by school resource officers (SROs) Mike Scola and Pete Sutera, who work within the police department’s Community Impact Unit, created six months ago by the police chief, mayor and health department.

Lt. Jeremiah Nicastro leads the unit that tackles issues including addiction, homelessness, mental health and youth outreach. Five years ago, Nicastro started Kops N Kids. But when the pandemic hit, Chief Ed Conley tasked him with finding a way to reach out to kids while social distancing.

“We’ve had five years building strong relationships with kids. And when Covid happened… we didn’t want to lose all that hard work,” Nicastro said. “It’s just a way to bond with our children and get our children to know that we’re human beings, too, and that we are their friends.”

“Today’s gaming isn’t just about playing a game,” Conley added. “It’s also about connecting. You’re playing with the headphones, you’re communicating, they’re texting back and forth with the kids and their families and maintaining that critical relationship.”

Nicastro began Wednesday’s tournament with a giveaway for a lucky player: a $100 gift card toward registration to Cape Ann Youth Hockey. Several businesses and individuals have donated bikes and gift cards as prizes.

As many as 500 kids, boys and girls between five and high-school age, have been playing.

One particularly skilled player, 12-year-old Connor Palmatier, has racked up multiple wins. Each time he stops in to collect his prizes from the officers, it is an opportunity to connect with them.

“They’re awesome for doing this,” Connor told Boston 25 News by Zoom Wednesday. “I love doing it. I love playing them.”

For Connor, who has Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), gaming isn’t just fun; it helps him focus and boosts his confidence, Connor’s mother, Kate McInerney said.

“I think it gets [the kids'] minds off what’s going on,” McInerney said. “They get so excited the day of the tournament, they start practicing before.”

The bonds they are creating are especially important during a tense time in the country between police and civilians as well as uncertainty during the pandemic.

“We’re not ignorant to the fact of what’s going on around the country,” Nicastro said. “When I take this uniform off, I’m a regular person. Our goal is to continue our strong bond with our community.”

Kids and parents interested in the program should visit the Instagram page @sro_gaming_, or the Kops N Kids Facebook page.

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