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Region’s sheriffs stress safety with Pokémon players

LAPLACE — When St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre pulled up to the Percy Hebert Building a few nights ago, he had a hard time finding a parking spot. Then, he was a bit mystified as to why there were people running all over the lawn.

“There were more people here at night than during the daytime,” Tregre said. “There were people all over the grounds.”

Tregre was a bit mystified at first, until someone told him his turf was a “hot spot” for local Pokémon hunters.

It’s the craze sweeping the nation — Pokémon Go, a game played by children and adults alike using a smartphone app. Using the GPS coordinates of the user, the game alerts players there is a Pokémon or a PokeStop somewhere in the vicinity. The player must find it to accumulate points and make their Pokémon stronger.

Some sites, often parks or other open areas, are called Pokemon “gyms,” where players wage battles. Those typically draw large crowds.

Then, when there’s a full moon, some of the more rare characters make an appearance. That’s likely what Tregre stumbled upon last week, although the LaPlace water tower, located directly behind the Sheriff’s Office, is a PokeStop.

“It was crazy,” he said. “It was more packed than during a Council meeting.”

While Tregre reported there were no problems with the crowd that night, some area law enforcement personnel are seeing an increase in calls.

Residents are reporting strangers on their lawns and sometimes in their backyards and business owners are dealing with non-purchasing customers.

The game even has caused accidents, with drivers swerving off the road or pedestrians walking into oncoming traffic while looking at their phones instead of where they’re going.

It was enough for St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne to issue a warning this week.

“We highly recommend that parents speak to their children about playing the game,” Champagne wrote. “Discuss the dangers of playing in public and the lack of awareness to their surroundings when their attention is diverted. Also explain to your children that playing in groups with their friends is a great idea, but remember that the game is played by people of all ages. Remind your child that they should not be tempted into playing Pokémon Go with strangers or anyone outside of a reasonable age range to prevent any inappropriate occurrences.

“Your life is more important than leveling up on some imaginary game.”

Tregre also urged residents to be careful while playing the game and to remain in safe areas — like the Percy Hebert Building lawn.

“I’d rather them come here and play in a safe environment than go behind the levee or in some dark, wooded area,” he said.