UK Essex Police have faced backlash over their handling of Pokemon Go players breaking COVID-19 lockdown, notably being men over 30 years old.
The Southend Standard reports [1, 2] that Essex county police in the town of Rochford had “cause to speak with” a number of men; which were all noted of being over the age of 30. This was due to them “attending public spaces” during the national COVID-19 lockdowns.
Essex Police’s Facebook post reportedly stated “Whilst patrolling, our community policing team, have had cause to speak with a number of different men, aged 30+ over the last week, who seemed to feel it is acceptable to attend certain public places within the district, to hunt Pokemon.”
The tone seemed to mock the players, as it was followed by “Honestly, yes, you did read that correctly.” The post concluded “If that happens to be someone you know, please remind them of the following information shared by our partners at Rochford District Council.”
It may have been that tone, combined with rising tension over those allegedly being arrested unjustly for breaking lockdown [1, 2, 3, 4] that resulted in Pokemon Go players biting back. The Facebook post was reportedly deleted after players weighed in on the police’ comments being mocking and blurring the lines of the lockdown rules.
An uncited Reddit thread reportedly received over 600 comments, with users discussing if playing the game while taking part in the allowed exercise was (or should be) allowed. Outside leisure activities are not allowed, while essential travel and exercise are. Users reportedly discussed what harm playing the game while exercise.
Deputy Leader of Rochford Council Cheryl Roe reportedly stated “There needs to be an all or nothing approach. The police are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. If these people were genuinely unaware they are bending the rules then that’s fine, but if they are repeat offenders, they need to be told.”
A spokesman for Essex Police stated to the Southend Standard “We were called to concerns of people making non-essential journeys in the Rochford area last week. We issued a tweet to remind the public of government guidelines re non-essential travel.”
“The tweet was issued in good faith”, they explain, “but was later deleted to ensure the appropriate level of seriousness when sharing crucial partnership and safety messages about the pandemic.”
In March 2020 Niantic incorporated new features to ensure players could still play the augmented reality game at home. This included counting steps taken at home, social features to keep in touch with other players, virtually visiting real life locations, and formerly live events being available online.
“As always, we encourage you to be aware of your surroundings and follow guidelines from local health authorities when playing Pokémon GO,” Niantic stated. “Where safe, Pokémon GO can be an engaging way to enjoy outdoor exercise. Socially-distanced exercise, such as walking outdoors, is encouraged by several global and national health organizations, including the WHO and CDC.”
Pokemon Go is available on Android, and iOS.