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What is Pokémon GO and Why Law Enforcement Should be Concerned

The world forever changed on July 6, 2016. One of the most popular games of millennials, Pokémon, became an augmented reality allowing many to relive their childhood ambition to catch them all. As quickly as the game was released, throughout the nation news stories of trespassers, hidden bodies discovered, and robberies involving Pokémon Go, dominated media news cycles.

Pokémon GO is a gaming app available for Apple and Android phones. Utilizing location based augmented reality, the game allows users to locate, capture, battle, and train Pokémon as if the creatur

es existed in the real world. Pokémon are virtual monsters based on the popular Nintendo Game Boy games of the same name developed in 1996. Pokémon Go uses the devices location data in order to create a map display that allows the user to begin searching for Pokémon.

As the player moves around in the real world, the avatar in the game moves within the games map. Moving to various areas provides different types of Pokémon. For example, water based Pokémon are found near water sources. When the player finds a Pokémon, the player attempts to catch the monster with a poke ball. Included in the game are PokéStops and gyms, located at various points in the virtual world, based on real world locations. The game utilizes the GPS and gyroscope of the device to augment the gameplay.

The game has more than 100 million downloads worldwide and has grossed $200M in revenue in one month. This unexpected phenomenon has brought individuals together and has increased attendance at businesses and public places with PokéStops. The magnitude of this game was has caused businesses and public places to quickly adapt to an influx of gamers visiting their locations to catch Pokémon.

Despite the social benefits the game provides, it does create significant challenges for law enforcement. Robbery, involving distracted gamers, is the most prevalent crime reported. My recent visit to Downtown Disney in Anaheim, Ca proved how numerous the gamers are and how oblivious they are to their surroundings. In Antelope, CA, two individuals were robbed and carjacked at gunpoint while looking for Pokémon at a park in the early morning hours. In addition to robberies, accidents resulting from distracted driving has significantly increased. Players have even discovered hidden bodies and captured sex offenders while playing the game.

While robberies and accidents caused by the game are challenges, the most critical issue is the location of PokéStops. Many of these PokéStops are located at police departments, firehouses, and military bases.

This creates significant security challenges as gamers seem to forgo trespassing laws in order to catch that elusive Pokémon. According to the LA Times, LA County fire 911 dispatchers received about 100 calls from gamers requesting access to particular firehouses. West Covina, CA Police Department received calls from individuals asking to access the jail in order to catch rare Pokémon.

These challenges to security and public safety are forcing law enforcement to embrace the game. This can be achieved through community led policing. Some departments are utilizing social media to prevent the unnecessary calls and providing the opportunity for officers to engage the community through organized Pokémon hunts. Other agencies are reminding individuals to not play and drive and be aware of one’s surroundings through the use of public displays. The success of Pokémon GO will lead to similar games utilizing augmented reality to be developed. This is one part of the growing social media trend that law enforcement must be prepared for.

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