El Cerrito Police Department hosts Pokémon Go block party

The El Cerrito Police Department raffled away multiple razor scooters and a bicycle. Photograph by Pablo De La Hoya.

The El Cerrito Police Department raffled away multiple razor scooters and a bicycle. Photograph by Pablo De La Hoya.

El Cerrito police have joined the Pokémon Go craze.

The El Cerrito Police Department held a Pokémon Go block party late last month, partly to show people how risky it can get if you walk around staring at little screens when you should be watching for traffic hazards.

The Police also hope the event will help set a positive tone in their community relations. At a time when cities across the country are engulfed in controversy over police shootings and an upturn in violent crime, the big concern in El Cerrito is how to capture animated “pocket monsters” without walking into real-world trouble.

Recently, a 20-year-old college student was shot and killed in San Francisco while playing Pokémon Go. Police have not identified any motive, but one theory is that the victim was not paying enough attention to his surroundings when the trouble started.

El Cerrito Officer Sarah Perez stated that in order to promote safety, the police give tips to people when an officer sees someone playing. During the recent block party, police officers approached parents and children to explain that they should look up from the game every now and then. Game players should also use crosswalks instead of running across the street along the roads where drivers aren’t expecting pedestrians.

Perez said she started thinking about Pokémon Go after encountering players walking onto streets without using crosswalks. The game uses the GPS capabilities of mobile phones to bring a player’s real-world location into the animation, so players can find pocket monsters as they move around.

With tensions running high in Charlotte, North Carolina, the El Cerrito police aimed at creating a bond between their officers and the children. “We want to show the children that we’re friendly,” she said.

Sergeant Scott Cliatt added, “there are bad things going on right now, but this is bringing new relationships that help connect the community with the officers.” He accredits the event to Officer Perez, and was proud of his officers for bringing the event together.

With children getting tours of the police cruiser, eating hot dogs and playing Pokémon Go, it gave them a way to relate to the officers. Many of the children also pulled out their phones and searched for rare pocket monsters as they appeared.

When Perez got back to her office, she started talking with other officers who had similar concerns—and were just as eager to play the game as anybody else. That’s when the idea of a Pokémon Go block party came to life.

“We were playing and laughing about it, but then we thought, you know what? Let’s do it,” she said.

The event was a hit with El Cerrito residents, some of whom showed up with their children on what turned out to be an exceptionally warm September Saturday. Some officers grilled hot dogs while the kids ran around looking for a Magmar that appeared nearby.

Some parents appreciated the effort and said it was good for both the cops and the kids.

“It’s good for them to form this relationship, it helps the police do a better job and educates the children,” El Cerrito parent Geoff Mann said at the event.

The block part wasn’t only geared towards El Cerrito. Neighboring cities also were part of the scene.

“This is a tri-city event, we often see children from Richmond and San Pablo, so we want to create a friendship between them as well,” Perez said.

The event was a success, and although there aren’t plans for another in the near future, Sergeant Cliatt is anticipating more events similar to this one to promote a better relationship between the community and the police.

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