Pokémon Go craze spurs local police warnings

WASHINGTON — The popularity of the Pokémon Go mobile app is prompting local police to warn players about their safety and vulnerability.

Pokémon Go resembles a scavenger hunt — it uses your phone’s GPS and clock to detect your location, and makes Pokémon appear on a phone’s screen, superimposed over whatever is being viewed nearby through a phone’s camera.

“It can be distracting,” said Cpl. Rebecca Innocenti, of the Montgomery County police. “This can pose a risk to you as you’re walking around, and not aware of your surroundings, in terms of crossing the street or what vehicles might be doing around you.”

In addition, players immersed in Pokémon Go become vulnerable.

“As you become less aware of your surroundings, you can increase your risk of becoming a victim of criminal activities,” Innocenti said.

Police in Missouri reported that four suspected robbers lured victims who were playing the game.

The latest version of the game, which first appeared in the late 1990s, aims to encourage players to walk in the real world to capture Pokémon.

However, Innocenti said some players are anxious to cover ground more quickly.

“The temptation to play this game while driving, violating cellphone laws, certainly is a very, very dangerous thing to do,” she said.

Innocenti suggests parents talk to children about keeping safe while playing.

“Travel in groups, not by yourself, not in the middle of the night; go to populated places and well-lit areas,” she suggests.

The National Park Service has taken a good-natured tack while reminding people to take the appropriate tone at the nation’s monuments on the Mall.

“We have received disturbing reports of Charmanders and Jigglypuffs roaming around the grounds of the Washington Monument raising a general ruckus,” the Park Service said in a statement.

“Seriously, though, as you race around the park trying to collect as many Pokémon as possible, please remember to be respectful of your fellow visitors as well as the memorials. Yes, it might be tempting to go after that Snorlax near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or the Venusaur hanging out in the chamber of the Jefferson Memorial, but remember that there are places of solemn reflection here on the National Mall where playing Pokémon just isn’t appropriate.”

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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