Courts Keep Police Fired for Choosing Pokémon Over Protect and Serve
Before video games, children used to play cops and robbers, or some variation of it. Then as video games increased in popularity, the Nintendo game Pokémon found continued success with kids and teenagers, spurring one of the largest media franchises that continues to thrive today. And now, we have cops playing these games instead of working to catch robbers.
Earlier this month, a California appeals court found that two police officers were properly dismissed from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) when the officers decided to catch ‘em all—specifically, the on-duty officers opted to catch virtual Pokémon instead of the very real robbers nearby.
Gotcha! Court upholds firing of LAPD officers who played 'Pokemon Go' instead of responding to robbery https://t.co/9P5Lu37big— WRBL News 3 (@wrblnews3) January 13, 2022
In April 2017, a radio call went out to beat patrol units, notifying them of a robbery in progress at a department store in the Crenshaw Mall, located in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood of the city. The officers—Eric Mitchell and Louis Lozano—were sitting in a patrol car in an alley within sight of the mall, but, according to court documents, they ignored the call and subsequent ones for backup, and then they left the area.
Mitchell and Lozano’s sergeant found his officers’ behavior “peculiar” and was unsatisfied with the officers’ answers when he questioned them about why they failed to respond. When he reviewed the officers’ patrol unit’s digital in-car video system (DICVS) recording he found the officers had not only lied about their location and about hearing the radio call, they also discussed it, decided not to respond to it, and tried to conceal that decision from other officers and their superiors.
“Aw, screw it,” Lozano said on the recording.
An appeals court in California upheld the firing of 2 former LAPD officers for playing Pokémon Go rather than responding to a nearby robbery. Both officers were pursuing a "Snorlax" and ignored a call for backup. https://t.co/jG5o8w1cxK— NPR (@NPR) January 11, 2022
The subsequent misconduct investigation uncovered that while they willfully ignored a radio call for help, they were also playing the augmented reality game Pokémon Go on mobile devices. At least one patrol unit was pulled from the scene of a homicide to assist officers responding to the robbery while Mitchell and Lozano started chasing down a Snorlax, which was eventually captured by Mitchell.
According to court documents, a Snorlax “is a Pokémon creature known as ‘the Sleeping Pokémon.’” The officers would later claim that they left their beat area to “chase this mythical creature” as part of an “extra patrol.”
This “extra patrol” was followed by another chase—this time for a Togetic, also caught by Mitchell. According to court documents, a Togetic “is a Pokémon creature known as a ‘happy, cheerful, and a ditsy’ Pokémon.”
The city’s Chief of Police agreed with an internal Board of Rights recommendation to fire the officers for their behavior.
Hoping for reinstatement, Mitchell and Lozano challenged the decision, arguing that the DICVS recording should not have been used as evidence against them, and their rights under the Public Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act (POBRA) were violated when their sergeant questioned them.
The California 2nd Appellate District Court, upholding a ruling from a lower trial court, denied the complaint.
The courts determined that the DICVS recording had been properly admitted into evidence, and that there were no POBRA violations since the sergeant questioned the officers as part of his typical duties as a supervisor. (Louis Lozano et al. v. City of Los Angeles et al., California 2nd Appellate District Court, No. 19STCP00168, 2021)