Essex County

Local police department using video games to connect with kids

GLOUCESTER, Mass. — Playing video games is a serious business for young people.

So, to make connections with this group, Gloucester Police Officers are playing with them.

Their goal is to build a bridge at a time when many young people are feeling distrustful of anyone with a badge.

The program is called the School Resource Officers Gaming Program. Not only does it include contests around video games but there is a chance to get some free fast food and win cool prizes like a drone.

Lieutenant Jeremiah Nicastro runs the city’s Community Impact Unit. He says this program is a chance for the kids to see police officers in a new light.

“We recognize that many times when children see police officers, it’s during a crisis or some kind of negative event. It allows us to build positive youthful relationships with our kids in a low-stress way.”

The program started during the pandemic and was conducted online. It gave the officers a way to stay in touch with the kids when feelings of isolation were running high.

“Because we recognize that we need to meet children where they are. They were at home socially isolated,” added Nicastro.

Now the police officers and kids can meet in person. “It’s just to show our children that we’re just normal human beings,” said Nicastro.

He says efforts like this are more important than ever, after high-profile cases like the death of Tyre Nichols. Five Memphis police officers are accused of beating the 29-year-old to death after a traffic stop.

Protests sprang up around the country, including in Boston.

“I can tell you this,” said Nicastro. “Nobody dislikes bad cops more than good cops. When an incident like this happens, it has a ripple effect and we try to stop that ripple on the Gloucester boundary.”

Talk to the kids and it seems to be working. “It makes it like the police aren’t scary and like they really do a good job, and it just makes it fun for the kids,” said one girl.

Another said, “they’re nicer when they’re around kids.”

A boy added, “I like having fun and winning stuff.”

On these nights, it seems like everyone wins.

“I can tell you that the school resource officers probably have more fun tonight than the kids. When they see the difference they’re making with the children, and their relationships of bonding and building, that’s the payoff to the police officer. It fuels our souls to do good police work,” said Nicastro.

All the prizes and food are donated by area businesses and residents.

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