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The City Journals

Pokémon and police help kids learn strategies to stay safe

Mar 27, 2019 02:54PM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

Officer Ryan Jonkman shows local kids and their parents how to safely cross a busy street while playing Pokémon Go. (Sarah Morton Taggart/City Journals)

By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]

Where can a cop and a teen battle each other while having fun? The answer: At a unique program called Poké Patrol offered at the Ruth Vine Tyler library. Kids of all ages are invited to play Pokémon Go with a local police officer one afternoon a month.

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality mobile game, meaning that players can track, capture, train and battle with virtual creatures that appear on their phone. The game encourages players to visit real life places in their community that the imaginary monsters inhabit. 

Officer Ryan Jonkman, or Officer Ryan as he’s known to the kids, is the School Resource Officer and D.A.R.E. officer for Midvale Middle School and all of the elementary schools in Midvale — and the official Poké Patrol officer since September of last year. 

Jonkman starts each session with a presentation on safety tips to keep in mind while playing Pokémon Go. Don’t play with your phone while walking or riding scooters or bikes. Don’t trespass or climb over fences to catch Pokémon. Travel in groups of three or more. Pay attention to what’s around you and avoid situations where you get that “uh oh feeling.”

“Since Pokémon Go came out, robberies, assaults, and other serious crimes have been committed against people as they’re playing the game,” said Jonkman. “Criminals sometimes wait for kids to show up [at Pokémon hot spots], then take their phones.”

This can be scary information to share with young people, but Jonkman does it in a manner that empowers the kids to have fun in a safe way.

Jonkman usually works with fifth graders, so it’s fun for him to get to know different age groups through this program. “I like that this gets younger kids involved. Kids in this area, often the only time they interact with the law is when there’s a problem. Poké Patrol shows that we’re not big, scary police.”

David “Davey” Bird created the program when he worked at the Kearns Library, and brought it with him when he transferred to the Tyler Library in 2015.

“At Kearns we had a close relationship with police officers and we were trying to figure out a way for kids and teens to play with the officers to get to know them,” said Bird. “We tried chess, but that wasn’t successful. Pokémon Go was just becoming popular, so the officers said yeah, we’ll download it and play with them.”

Poké Patrol was popular from the beginning, with the cops joining dozens of teens on 20- to 30-minute walks, and has continued because it offers a lot of benefits.

“It’s unique, it creates a positive relationship between children, officers and the library. It provides exercise, teaches safety, and we provide a meal,” said Bird. “All participants are welcome to grab a snack from the Kid’s Cafe, which is offered to anyone under 18 years of age at the library every Monday through Friday afternoon.”

After the safety presentation was done on the last Wednesday in February, the kids in attendance eagerly pulled out their devices and logged into the game, some catching imaginary creatures right there in the library’s meeting room. Then Officer Ryan led them on a short walk, stopping to point out ways to be safe along the way. 

The group would stop every 100 feet as someone caught a new virtual creature. The officer usually got as excited as the kids when a new Pokémon was found.

Parents can appreciate the game, too. “It’s a fun way to get outside. That’s why I let them play it!” said Rebekah Williams. “Last summer we discovered all these new places, like the Sandy museum.”

Poké Patrol is open to kids of all ages and takes place every last Wednesday of the month at the Ruth Vine Tyler Library. Participants are invited to first grab a snack from the Kid’s Cafe at 3:30 p.m. The patrol starts promptly at 4 p.m. and returns to the library at 5 p.m.