Highland County Commissioner Tom Horst doesn’t mind people chasing Pokemon all over Highland County, and he even had to laugh when a couple of the little creatures were spotted in his own office.
But Horst draws the line when the hunt for Pokemon – (the plural of Pokemon is still Pokemon, say those in the know) – ends up damaging public property, especially the memorials located on the courthouse grounds. And local police are warning that trespassing laws apply even during the hunt for Pokemon.
The problem isn’t unique locally. Across the nation, countless news stories have recounted problems or outright damage caused by the fervor displayed by Pokemon Go players.
In New York’s Central Park, hundreds stampeded the area when a rare Pokemon was spotted. Arlington National Cemetery has asked Pokemon players to stay out.
“We do not consider playing ‘Pokemon Go’ to be appropriate decorum on the grounds of ANC. We ask all visitors to refrain from such activity,” officials said in a statement.
Pokemon-related traffic at a boat launch near New Orleans threatened safety and caused backups. A driver in Baltimore swiped a police cruiser while trying to snag Pokemon characters from behind the wheel. The list seems endless.
Nintendo, the maker of Pokemon, describes it as a fun game designed to encourage players to walk for exercise while exploring their communities in the hunt for the cartoon-like monsters that show up on their smart phones through a mapping system.
“The map is your main view while playing Pokemon GO, and it is based on the actual real-world map of the streets and pathways where you’re standing,” according to the game description. “The map contains lots of information that’s useful when you’re exploring. You’ll always be in the center of the map. Use it to find PokeStops, Gyms, the location of nearby Pokemon, and more!”
The description notes that “PokeStops usually exist at easily identifiable landmarks, such as public art installations or other points of interest.”
That’s part of the problem, said Horst. In Hillsboro, the Highland County Veterans Memorial is apparently a “PokeStop,” where players can restock on items needed for the game, like “Poke Balls.”
But Horst said players have been standing on the memorial wall, leaving debris and turning around the floodlights that illuminate the memorial in order to better view the Pokemon characters through the screens on their phones. One of the lights ended up cracked, said Horst.
“They’re disrespecting it,” he said, adding that the problem was reported to police.
The commissioner said players have also climbed up and down the Civil War monument in front of the courthouse, generally disrespecting it and leaving pop cans and cigarette butts strewn around the statue.
Residents in Hillsboro and across most other parts of Highland County have noticed an increase in teens and young adults walking alone or in groups with their phones in front of their faces as they keep an eye out for the creatures to pop up in the phone’s camera view.
The Hillsboro Police Department said in a statement Thursday that “officers have located numerous individuals on business, churches, and government properties at all hours of the night, when these places are closed to the public. These individuals have been found climbing on the Veterans Memorial and the Civil War Memorial located around the county courthouse. They have also left their trash around the memorials.”
The statement said that players venturing onto some properties at certain hours could be problematic. “These actions are considered trespassing and put the individual and the Officers in a position of unnecessary risk,” the statement read.
In an apparent reference to violence against police across the country, the statement added, “Please remember that these are especially tense times as of the last few weeks. Do not lurk around the PD at any hour while you are playing Pokemon Go—it makes an unsafe situation for you and our Officers.”
The statement said, “If you feel the need to use the PD as part of your game, just use common sense: Come on in to the lobby and say ‘Hi!’ and let someone behind the counter or an officer know you are looking for an imaginary critter thing and make sure that your presence is well-known, for example. ‘I was collecting Pokemon’ is not a legal defense against a charge of trespass, so be sure that you have permission to enter an area or building.”
The statement added, “Always know where you shouldn’t Pokemon Go and pick up your trash and dispose of it properly.”
When he was being shown recently how the game works, two Pokemon creatures popped up in the commissioners’ office, Horst said, chuckling.
“I don’t mind them having fun,” said Horst. “But don’t disrespect public property or the memorials.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.