By DAN FOX and KYLIE MCCOOL
Four suspects recently apprehended by the O’Fallon Police Department are accused of playing a part in multiple armed robberies across St. Louis and St. Charles counties. The catch? They were allegedly using the new “Pokemon GO” augmented reality game to help find their victims.
Three of the four suspects are 18-year-old Shane Michael Backer of Wentzville, 17-year-old Brett William Miller of St. Peters and 18-year-old Jamine James D. Warner of O’Fallon. The fourth suspect’s name is not being released, as he is a juvenile. According to an O’Fallon police press release, the suspects had a handgun with them.
The three have been charged by the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office with robbery in the 1st degree and armed criminal action; a Class A Felony and an unclassified felony, respectively.
According to the release, the suspects were able to use the app’s geolocation features to “anticipate the location and level of seclusion of unwitting victims.”
“Pokémon GO” has been exploding in popularity since its release a few weeks ago; reportedly boasting over 15 million downloads at press time. The game allows players to chase down and capture cute, fantasy creatures called Pokémon, battle fellow players and live out the fantasy almost every 90s kid had of being a Pokémon Master.
However, some local officials have concerns regarding the app.
Officer Melissa Doss, St. Peter’s Police Department’s public information officer, said there have been a large number of children and adults in the city’s parks after-hours.
“We just want to reiterate to people that, its great that you’re playing this game, keeping people active, [it] seems to be a lot of fun for people,” Doss said. “However, no one is allowed to be in the parks after dark. We will be enforcing trespassing in our parks.”
Doss said the department is also cautioning “Pokémon GO” players not to cut across private property in order to catch the eponymous characters.
Chesterfield Parks, Recreations and Arts Director Tom McCarthy said while the city has some concerns about kids being in the park after hours, overall the parks are seeing an uptick in traffic, “which is awesome,” he added.
“It’s a pretty cool thing,” McCarthy said. “We’re happy about it.”
The hype around “Pokémon GO” may also prove to be a boon for local businesses. Emily Hall, the owner of Main Street Books in St. Charles, said St. Charles Main Street has been inundated with traffic from aspiring Pokémon trainers.
“Main Street is just full of Pokéstops and things like that, so it’s been a really cool thing to watch people walk around and be apart of the craze, as it were,” Hall said.
People playing “Pokémon GO” can find in-game items at these Pokéstops, which are often found at real-world landmarks, businesses and churches. In addition, players can visit in-game gyms, which have been set up by the game’s developer in real-world locations as well. Players have the chance to leave their mark on the virtual world by conquering these gyms and beating other players. Hall said the Main Street Gazebo is one of the in-game gyms.
The LifePointe Church in Wildwood happily accepted its gym status, changing their sign to read “Come try out our Pokémon Gym! Go Team Blue!”
Businesses on Main Street have been partaking in the fun, Hall said, with many locations embracing the app with good humor. She said many of the local shops have put out signs advertising specials and welcoming players with things like Pokémon themed slushies or discounts for showing screenshots of Pokémon caught nearby.
Hall said businesses wanting to attract customers who are playing the game need to make their stores a welcoming space for players. Embracing the nerd culture is important, Hall said.
Geek is Chic, as they say.
“I’m 27, so Pokémon is like my entire childhood,” Hall said. “Everybody in my age group, we all wanted to be Pokémon trainers. That was like our dearest wish, was that Pokémon would suddenly be a real thing.
“So for me, it’s been so easy to just open my store up and say ‘we are a good space for you guys.’”