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Berkeley police try to ‘catch ‘em all’ with Pokémon league

By Dan Campana

Berkeley Police Cmdr. Blake Garcia knows a little something about Pokémon and community engagement, but putting the two together in one initiative didn’t happen overnight.

He’s been a police officer for 11 years, spending five of them as director of the department’s Neighborhood Watch program. He also has a son who introduced him to the world of Pokémon a few years ago. After receiving some cards, Garcia’s son asked him to play along.

“I spent several frustrating hours trying to figure out how to play and gradually taught it to my son,” Garcia said of his trial-and-error process to learn the game embraced by children around the world.

Put it all together and you have the roots for the Berkeley Police Department’s upcoming Pokémon league for kids in the western suburb which launches later this month.

Garcia’s son, now eight years old, has grown in his enjoyment of the game to the point where he participates in tournaments at a local gaming shop, Garcia explained. That’s when Pokémon’s popularity among kids took him by surprise. But, it was something else he saw while taking his son to a shop tournament that resonated with him professionally.

“I noticed that a police officer walked by the storefront and a few of the kids commented that they would be scared if the officer came into the store,” Garcia recalled. “From my experience, most kids have a misconception that police officers only show up to take them away if they do something bad.

“This is where the idea struck me to have police officers play Pokémon with kids in the community. I figure if I could get police officers to play games with the kids, it will change the negative … into a positive,” Garcia said.

From there, Garcia partnered up with Brett Luminais of the Berkeley Public Library and Dane White of The Gaming Goat to get the wheels turning on an official Pokémon league. Garcia then went to Pokémon officials about certifying the league, which opened up a new series of revelations.

“To my surprise, Pokémon requires you to fill out an application, take a test to be a judge/tournament organizer/league owner and pass a subsequent background check through Pokémon Company International,” he described. “I honestly believe that it is easier to pass a police officer exam and background check.”

Garcia recently received his judge and organizer certifications, so league approval is the final formality from Pokémon before things get going on April 22. Feedback has been strong within the Berkeley and Pokémon communities as word spreads through social media. Kids, parents and judges have volunteered their time, while card donations also helped bolster efforts to get the league started.

“I have a few officers on hand, and they are gearing up to train and battle the kids when they show up,” Garcia said. “I would love to have another police department in my area step up and create another league that we can challenge for Pokémon prizes in the near future.”

Overall, it’s all been quite a learning process for Garcia, who has even entered two events to further his Pokémon know-how.

“I have found that I am a better organizer than a player because I have lost six straight games,” he acknowledged. “That being said, I have made some new friends and have been blown away with how nice and accepting the families are within the Pokémon community.”

Check out more information on the Berkeley Police Department’s Pokémon league here.