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Pokémon Go craze hits Wilson County

Jake Old • Updated Jul 15, 2016 at 11:00 AM

If a strange, suspicious figure is spotted near a home, business or city park late at night, it might not be a criminal. It might be someone searching for Pokémon.

Pokémon Go, the popular mobile game developed by Niantic and Nintendo that features fictional monsters in the world that users must capture in game through augmented reality, has users outside hunting for the creatures.

According to Lt. Tyler Chandler of the Mt. Juliet Police Department, there have been several instances of police and civilians alike mistaking Pokémon players for suspicious individuals.

“We’ve seen cars on the side of the road that, normally, a car parked at a park or a business that’s closed at 2:30 a.m. would be suspicious, but we approach it and they’re just playing Pokémon,” Chandler said.

Pokémon, a portmanteau of “pocket monsters,” is a series of video games, television shows, movies and collectable cards that has been around since the mid-1990s, but has seen various spikes in popularity over the years

Pokémon players can be seen various places around the county, including the square in Lebanon and near various businesses, at all times of day.

Chandler said users should remember to be safe while playing the game in public places.

“Don’t play the game while you’re driving; pull over first,” Chandler said.

“If there is a Pokémon you need to catch that’s on private property, you need to have permission. Be mindful of property boundaries. A lot of parks and state property close afterhours, and you don’t want to be out there at those times.”

The Tennessee Highway Safety Office has also issued multiple posts on social media reminding people to be safe while playing Pokémon Go.

Chandler has personally had a little bit of experience with the game, although he is not a player.

“I run late at night, at about 10 p.m., and I run at different places, like our city park,” he said. “Normally when I’m running there, no one is out, but the last couple of nights, there were 30 extra people out there, and they all have their phones out, obviously playing Pokémon.”

He also had a run-in with a Pokémon, Kakuna, in the Mt. Juliet city IT director’s office recently that was photographed and posted to the police department’s Facebook page. The picture shows Chandler reaching out and trying to grab the Pokémon.

“Our IT director, his son is really into the game, and I said, ‘hey, why don’t you take a picture of me trying to catch (the Pokémon)?’ and they said, ‘that’s not really how that works,’ but it made a good picture,” Chandler said.

Even if he doesn’t understand the game, Chandler said he appreciates what it has done to bring people together.

“It brings people out in the community, and then gets them out and about,” he said. “It reminds me of geo-caching, but taking to another level.”

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