Crime - Sacto 911

Police give warnings as ‘Pokémon Go’ players meet with crimes, accidents

The distraction of the wildly popular cellphone game “Pokémon Go” has caused two men to fall off a cliff in San Diego, made a man crash his car into a tree in upstate New York, and led to the early-morning mugging of two teens in Redding.

Because of the game’s potential for havoc, Sacramento law enforcement agencies are taking precautionary measures. They’ve issued warnings on Facebook and Twitter to prevent similar events in the Sacramento area.

This past week, the Sacramento, Roseville, Rockin and Elk Grove police departments all put out safety notices for “Pokémon Go” players.

The notices included several tips to make sure players stay safe while exploring and searching for Pokémon, including not driving while playing and being aware of their surroundings.

Sacramento police spokeswoman Traci Trapani said the department’s social media post was precautionary, and the Elk Grove Police Department issued its warning to head off trouble, spokesman Joaquin Farinha said.

“We want people to have fun, but we want them to be safe, too,” Farinha said. “We really don’t want people driving or riding your bike while playing. The rules apply to everyone, and if you’re looking down and playing while you’re driving, that’s going to lead to a ticket.”

The Roseville Police Department has received some calls involving “Pokémon Go” problems, but none of the situations have been life-threatening or dangerous, police spokeswoman Dee Dee Gunther said.

Gunther said citizens in Roseville are instructed to call the police when they see suspicious people in their neighborhoods wandering the streets at night. When “Pokémon Go” first came out and people were walking through Roseville after dark looking for Pokémon, residents called with concerns about prowlers, she said.

“We got several calls from people saying people were loitering around their houses and looking in their cars with glowing objects, which people thought were flashlights,” Gunther said. “Then the officer would get out there and it would just be someone playing ‘Pokémon Go.’ 

“Fortunately, no one has gotten hurt yet,” she said.

Gunther said that of the safety tips the department posted, the most important is: Don’t play Pokémon while driving.

One Sacramento resident said he was unlikely to heed the safety warnings.

“I’m guilty of playing ‘Pokémon Go’ and driving, so I will probably not be participating in those concerns,” said Reid Konkel, a manager at a fitness club in Sacramento. Konkel was playing the game with a friend as they walked the streets of midtown.

Another guideline listed in the police departments’ social media posts is players being aware of their surroundings. On Friday afternoon, a young teenage boy inadvertently walked into the Press Club, a bar at 21st and P streets in Sacramento, bartender Tifani Valentino said.

“After a kid came in wanting to catch Pokémon inside, I was thinking about putting up a sign, something to say ‘Pokémon for 21 and up only,’ Valentino said.

The local police warnings came after a series of well-publicized accidents and crimes involving Pokémon players nationwide.

Two men in San Diego County fell off a cliff Thursday while playing the game. One man fell 75 to 100 feet; the other was found unconscious 50 feet down the cliff face. Both suffered moderate injuries and were taken to trauma centers.

That same day, two people playing “Pokémon Go” were arrested at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo, Ohio, after they climbed the fence when the zoo was closed. They were found near the zoo’s tiger enclosure.

In upstate New York, a 28-year-old man who admitted playing the game while driving crashed into a tree and suffered a broken ankle Tuesday, according to local media reports.

And early Friday, two teens were mugged by seven assailants while playing the game in a Redding park. One assailant stabbed a 16-year-old girl in the arm after she refused to hand over her purse, and another hit her companion, a young man, in the neck with a piece of PVC pipe before taking his wallet, Redding police said.

With all the Pokémon-related accidents and crimes happening, Farinha said, Sacramento-area law enforcement authorities just want the public to be safe.

“Have fun,” he said, “but make sure you look where you’re going.”

Thomas Oide: 916-321-1009, @thomasoide

Related stories from Sacramento Bee