Coney Island

Savino pushes legislation to protect kids playing Pokémon GO

Investigation finds children could be lured by sex offenders

August 3, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Hundreds of people played Pokémon GO in Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan last week. Photo by Wajeeh Ullah
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A directive issued Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ban convicted sex offenders from playing the popular “Pokémon Go” game is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to protect children, according to state Sen. Diane Savino, who is helping to push legislation aimed at keeping kids safe.

“We are grateful for the governor’s quick action on this. But you still need legislation to address this. ‘Pokémon Go’ is not the first virtual reality game that will be out there. There will be others,” Savino told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday.

A day earlier, following the release of a report by Savino (D-Coney Island-parts of Bensonhurst-Staten Island) and state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx-Westchester), which found that children playing “Pokémon Go” could easily wind up near the homes of convicted sex offenders, Cuomo issued a directive ordering New York state to make it condition of parole for a sex offender to refrain from playing the virtual reality game.

“As technology evolves, we must ensure these advances don’t become new avenues for dangerous predators to prey on new victims,” the Associated Press quoted Cuomo as saying.

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The Klein-Savino report, titled “Protecting Our Children: How Pokémon GO and Augmented Reality Games Expose Children to Sex Offenders,” contained shocking statistics, including the fact that Pokémon materialized in front of the homes of Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders 57 percent of the time.

In addition, he investigation found that Pokéstops, or gyms, a key element of the game, were located within a half-block from pedophiles’ homes 59 percent of the time.

“We were stunned,” Savino said, discussing the reaction she and Klein had when they looked into the potential dangers of the game.

The game has the potential to inadvertently “give sex offenders the opportunity to lure children,” she said. “Kids are so enraptured staring into their phones. They walk into traffic. They could walk into a sex offender.”

Klein plans to introduce a bill, which Savino is supporting, to prohibit Level 2 and 3 sex offenders from playing any augmented reality game. Another bill Klein and Savino will push would require game developers to scour the Department of Criminal Justice website on a regular basis to obtain sex offender addresses and remove all in-game objectives within 100 feet of their residences.

“While children believe they are out to catch a Pokémon, what might really be lurking could be a predator instead of a Pikachu. We want our children to have safe fun, but it makes no sense at all to give dangerous sexual predators a virtual road map to where our children congregate,” Klein said in a statement.

Savino said the investigation she and Klein conducted was prompted by the “Pokémon Go” phenomenon itself.  One hundred million people have downloaded the game since it was introduced in early July.

“We saw this new game and how kids were going to be using their cellphones to go to different places to track down things and my antenna went up,” she told the Eagle. “When you spend a lot of time on addressing legislation, it informs the way you look at the world in general.”

Uncovering the information in the investigation took “just a little bit of effort on our part,” Savino said.

The state Legislature is currently not in session. Efforts to get Klein’s bills passed will resume when the new session begins in January. For now, the lawmakers are trying to raise public awareness, Savino said.

“We’re telling parents never let kids play ‘Pokémon Go’ alone. Go with a group,” she said.


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