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Police cite 'Pokemon Go' players in York Twp.

Liz Evans Scolforo
505-5429/@LizScolforoYD
  • Police in York County have been warning Pokemon Go players not to trespass on private property.
  • Players can be cited, police said, or could be shot by frightened homeowners mistaking them for burglars.
  • Cited player said she thinks she should have been given a warning first and intends to fight the ticket.

"Pokemon Go" players have reacted strongly on social media to reports of their own being cited for trespassing on private property.

A York Township woman posted a warning early Friday morning on the Central PA Pokemon Facebook page, telling players to avoid a certain Pokemon "gym" because she'd just been cited for trespassing there.

A local Pokemon Go player is angry that she was cited for trespassing on church property in York Township. She posted this image from her phone on Facebook with her comment warning other players.
(Photo courtesy of Facebook)

The location is Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 2500 Pine Grove Road in York Township, according to York Area Regional Police Chief Tim Damon.

"Seriously makes me mad," the 26-year-old cited woman, Vanessa Royal, wrote on Facebook. "Kids aren't out doing drugs they are playing an innocent game, and the cops wanna meet quotas."

Some two dozen people commented on her post, virtually all supportive of her.

Pokeman Go players gather at Cousler Park in Manchester Township, Thursday, July 14, 2016. About a dozen players flocked to a "lure" posted by James Steepe of Manchester, but players reported that in excess of 100 people have been at the park in recent days searching for Jigglypuffs. John A. Pavoncello photo

"You weren't doing anything wrong," one commenter noted.

"Didn't know churches were private property," another wrote.

Many commenters agreed she was targeted because police have "bulls— quotas."

"Total entrapment," another opined.

No entrapment: It's not entrapment, according to Damon, who said it wasn't even his department's idea to station an officer at the church.

"The officer was there at the direction of the church because they were concerned that they had numerous people there to play the game," he said. "The players weren't there to visit the church or on any legitimate business — they were playing a game."

Police: Pokemon Go players found trespassing in parks, yards

According to Damon, the president of the church's board of directors asked York Area Regional Police to patrol the property overnight.

"They're finding people walking with their phones, looking for their Pokemons," the chief said, and that's not only happening at the church but also at various businesses and organizations in York Area Regional's coverage area.

"People are concerned about events in the world and the nation, and now they have strange people walking on their property," he said.

West York Police Officer Scott Musselman urges a Pokemon Go player to be safe.
(Photo courtesy of West York Police)

In response, some local businesses will be putting up no-trespassing signs that exempt customers, according to the chief.

Two citations: Damon said officers cited two people between Thursday and Friday for trespassing at the church.

In addition to Royal, who was cited with trespass by motor vehicle at 11:30 p.m. Thursday, police also cited Zachary Barber, 21, of North Codorus Township, for the same offense. That happened about 1 a.m. Friday, according to Damon. He said both people drove onto church property, then drove to the rear of the church.

"Specifically for this incident, we're looking at (trespassing during) inconvenient hours," the chief said, adding the church has had issues in the past with overnight crime, such as theft.

"They are protecting their property," he said.

Not disruptive: Royal said she thinks the officer should have given her a warning rather than a citation.

"A warning would've (worked) well for me," she wrote in a message. "If I came back hours later to try again after knowing it was wrong, then it's justified. ... It could've been handled differently."

Royal said she saw no signs at the church stating it's private property or closed after dusk and said there's no signs to warn that trespassers will be fined.

Woman: Daughter hit by car while playing 'Pokemon Go'

The only visible sign, she said, is at the far end of the opposing entrance, which says "no through traffic." That sign isn't particularly visible after dark, Royal said, and because of her work schedule she plays "Pokemon Go" after dark.

She said she works nearby and has seen "countless" vehicles drive in there at night.

"I wasn't planning to disrupt anyone," Royal told The York Dispatch. "We don't hang around in groups or get rowdy/loud. It's a single car at a time for 5 minutes or less. ... We aren't looking for trouble."

Whether she intended to be disruptive isn't the issue, according to Damon. The issue, he said, is that private-property owners have the right to keep people off their property.

"Just because you've downloaded an app on your phone does not give you the right to trespass on private property," the chief said.

Springettsbury Township Police put out this image of Pokemon's Squirtle in the driver's seat.

Will fight it: Royal said she intends to fight the citation in court, or at least try to get the amount of the fine reduced.

She said she saw the officer turn off the patrol car's lights as she was leaving the church property.

"He was hoping to catch many others that night," Royal said.

The quota system for law enforcement is illegal here. The Pennsylvania Legislature in 1981 passed a law prohibiting all police officers, state police troopers, state game commission officers and fish and boat commission officers from using quotas when writing summary tickets and citations.

One Facebook commenter acknowledged Royal was in the wrong: "No offense intended towards you, but I'm almost positive cops do not want to waste their time trying to round up PkGO players from private property like feral cats. Whether you could see the (private property) sign or not, you do not own the church ... therefore it is not your property."

Warnings: A number of police departments in York County have issued warnings to "Pokemon Go" players, including warnings not to trespass on private property.

Northern York County Regional Police saw large numbers of players going into public parks after dark, when those parks are closed.

On Friday, Northern Regional Lt. David Lash said that since his department issued a warning that they would be citing people found in the parks after dark, the number of offenders has significantly dropped.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.