By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterAugust 4, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- With "Pokémon Go!" sweeping the nation and causing people to rush to "catch 'em all," missing out on capturing a rare Pokémon may be the least of some of players' worries -- some may end up caught themselves for security or distracted driving violations.
Installation officials and law enforcement have seen in influx in calls due to suspicious persons and activity around post, only to respond and find that it's an individual on the hunt for their favorite Pokémon, which can be a huge waste of time and resources for law enforcement, according to Marcel Dumais, Fort Rucker chief of police.
"We've observed on post that Soldiers and family members are out in areas and facilities that are closed during hours of darkness, and they're out in the roadways and parking lots trying to catch these Pokémon," he said. "That, in and of itself, poses some serious problems, not in just that they can be struck by a vehicle, but passersby who see them out there could mistake them for a suspicious person or suspicious activity, then they call us and we respond to the call and when we get there we find that it's someone playing the game."
Pokémon Go! is an interactive, location-based, augmented-reality game that people play on their smartphones that require them to venture to different locations in their area in order to capture different Pokémon characters. There are hundreds of characters to be captured, so in order to "catch 'em all," as the game's catchphrase goes, people must venture all over.
But some may find themselves in areas they shouldn't be in.
Dumais said so far there have been upwards of 15 people that law enforcement have encountered in areas where facilities are closed.
In addition to capturing the different Pokémon, there are also "gyms" that people can visit where they can battle their Pokémon with other people, as well as "Poké Stops" that people can visit to get in-game items, all of which could have players venturing into locations at the wrong time.
"When we receive these calls it puts us on a high state of alert," said Dumais, adding that it's not just a problem on Fort Rucker, but across all installations.
In addition to people being in places they shouldn't be, Dumais said there is also an issue with people playing the game while driving, which can pose serious risks to themselves, other drivers and pedestrians.
Fort Rucker is a hands-free installation, meaning that people are not allowed to utilize their phones unless they are able to through a Bluetooth connection or other hands-free method, said the police chief.
"When people are playing the game, they have to employ the smartphone when they're trying to capture these characters," said Dumais. "You have to hold your phone in such a manner that you're attempting to capture this character, so there really is no way for you to operate your vehicle (and play the game) because you have to be able to manipulate your phone in order to play the game."
People caught using their phones while driving will be hit with a $60 fine, or worse, they could end up injuring themselves or someone else due to distracted driving, said the police chief. Additionally, people playing the game while on foot should also pay attention to where they are walking.
Another issue that Pokémon Go! poses for people playing on the installation is that since they must interact with the phone and their environment, oftentimes it can look like they are taking photos with their phone, which in many areas is prohibited, said Dumais.
"We have restricted areas where people aren't supposed to be taking photos around the installation, and that becomes an issue for force protection," he said. "Whether they are taking a picture or not, it appears as though they are (when playing the game). When we see that, we're going to stop and encounter the person and let them know that they can't be taking photos around those areas, and the potential exists that if I'm not able to delete the photos off of their phone then I'll have to seize their phone until those photos are deleted."
In addition to the risks of being stopped by law enforcement, some players could possibly find themselves stopped by some other unsavory characters.
Dumais said there can be criminals who are using the game to target unsuspecting players, and there have been instances where people have been robbed while visiting different gyms or Poké Stops. Since these locations require people to visit them in the actual physical world, it's easy for people to be targeted when visiting these locations during afterhours or alone.
"There are some bad people out there also playing these games who know where these gyms and things are, and when most people go there for the express purpose of playing the game they're probably not focusing on their surroundings," said the police chief. "There have been cases we've heard about where people have been robbed in those areas because not everyone out there playing the game might be friendly towards you.
"We caution people to be very careful when they're playing the game and remain focused on their surroundings," he said. "Don't go to places that aren't well lit and don't go alone. People's own self-preservation is important when playing the game."
People should be having fun when playing the game, but they should also be playing the game safely, said Dumais.
"Commanders and directors should discuss the issue with their Soldiers, civilian employees and family members, and ask them to make sure that if they're playing the game to do so safely and responsibly, especially if they're on Fort Rucker," he said.