With the popularity of the new mobile augmented-reality game Pokémon Go continuing to soar, the already high likelihood of running into someone on the sidewalk lost in the world of their smart phone has only grown. And you're not the only person to notice this — criminals and police have as well. This fact has led the Bayview Station to issue a safety bulletin to would-be Ash Ketchums.
"As the Pokemon Go fever hits the streets of San Francisco, I wanted to take a few minutes to remind you/your kids of some simple safety tips," writes Captain Raj Vaswani of the Bayview Station. "So as you battle, train, and capture your Pokemon — just remember you’re still in the real world! Other law enforcement agencies throughout the world have already reported accidents, injuries, and string of robberies where suspects have set up fake ‘Poke-spots’." (Note: It is not possible to set up fake PokéSpots — they come preassigned by the game.)
Captain Vaswani might be referring to an incident near St. Louis, wherein Fox 6 reports that criminals may have been using the game to find "PokéSpots," real life locations where players congregate for gaming purposes, and then to rob unsuspecting players of their smartphones.
Putting aside the question if Captain Vaswani has played the mobile game himself (the image of him, in full uniform, trying to "catch them all" is... unique), his safety tips for players are below. We've bolded our favorites.
- Know your surroundings and pay attention to where you are going/who is around you. Slow car paralleling a person on foot, might be a sign it’s a get-away car. If you get the sense you are being followed or set-up for a robbery, head to a lighted area with people around.
- Watch where you are going, please don’t look down at your phone while crossing streets, getting off buses, or even while walking. Obey traffic laws, please.
Do not run into trees, meters, and things that are attached to the sidewalk; they hurt.
Do not drive or ride your bike / skateboard / hipster techie device while interacting with the app.
- Know where your kids are going when playing with the app, set limits on where they can go, so they don’t keep going trying to get that Pokemon.
- Tell your kids about stranger-danger because the app may bring strangers together in real life at ‘pokestops’.
- Do not go onto private property, dark alleys, or areas that you usually would not go if you weren’t playing the game.
Interestingly, Pokémon Go, which according to Forbes is on track to surpass Twitter in daily active users on the Android platform, isn't only sparking fears of crime — it's also sparking fears of police.
In a post to Medium last week, one enthusiastic player noted that for him, playing the game might literally be a death sentence.
"When my brain started combining the complexity of being Black in America with the real world proposal of wandering and exploration that is designed into the gameplay of Pokemon GO, there was only one conclusion," wrote Omari Akil in his post. "I might die if I keep playing."
He notes that, as a black man, "[there] is a statistically disproportionate chance that someone could call the police to investigate me for walking around in circles in the [apartment] complex." He then, after calling out the recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, lays out the fear that an interaction with police could end up very badly for him.
So as you wander the streets of SF in pursuit of some rare water Pokémon, it may pay to remember the words of both Akil and Vaswani — and not to risk it all in pursuit of "catching them all."