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WSU ‘deadly force’ lab finds racial disparities in shootings

Lois James, left, and Bryan Vila
Lois James, left, and Bryan Vila

Participants in an innovative WSU study of deadly force were more likely to feel threatened in scenarios involving black people. But when it came time to shoot, participants were biased in favor of black suspects, taking longer to pull the trigger against them than against armed white or Hispanic suspects.

The findings, published in the recent Journal of Experimental Criminology, grow out of dozens of simulations aimed at explaining the disproportionate number of ethnic and racial minorities shot by police. The studies use the most advanced technology available, as participants with laser-equipped guns react to potentially threatening scenarios displayed in full-size, high-definition video.

Lois James and Bryan Vila, research professors in criminology and criminal justice at WSU Spokane, used a sophisticated “deadly force” simulator to analyze how police, military and the general public react in threatening situations.

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WSU professor, Spokane Police featured in CNN segment on crisis intervention research

Bryan Vila
Bryan Vila

WSU professor of criminal justice Bryan Vila and the Spokane Police Department are featured in a CNN program for their collaboration on research into the physical and emotional responses of law enforcement in crisis situations.

As part of its “AC360” program hosted by Anderson Cooper, reporter Gary Tuchman visited a police confrontations lab run by students at WSU Spokane. Volunteers, including members of the Spokane Police Department, are placed in a virtual reality situation involving dramatizations of real-life confrontations, and their heart rate, brain waves and other vital signs are monitored as they make decisions about use of force.

Find out more and watch the program segment online

Oakland, Calif., police enduring unprecedented overtime stretch

Bryan Vila
Bryan Vila

Without enough officers to respond to 911 calls and patrol streets, Oakland, Calif., has required police to work extra patrol shifts for the past 18 months—a duration that law enforcement experts say appears unprecedented and could threaten public safety.

The mandatory overtime requirement began in October 2012 and isn’t scheduled to end until next March when the department anticipates finally having enough officers to adequately staff the patrol division.

But mandatory overtime is typically reserved for disasters or short-term operations, said Bryan Vila, a WSU professor of criminal justice and criminology and former Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy who authored the book Tired Cops: The Importance of Managing Police Fatigue.

“I’ve never heard of mandatory overtime being used for longer than a year or so and even that is very long,” Vila said.

Too much overtime, especially in Oakland where police face the highest volume of 911 calls in the state, could leave officers fatigued, over-stressed and mistake prone, Vila said. “Your risk of critical incidents and vehicle crashes goes up,” he said. “Those cost a lot of money and so do the civil suits every time a police officer makes a mistake that is avoidable.”

Read more about police overtime

Urban night shift police more likely to suffer long-term job injuries, study finds

Police officers working the night shift are significantly more likely to suffer long-term on-the-job injuries than officers on day and afternoon shifts, according to a new study co-authored by Bryan Vila, professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology and the Sleep and Performance Research Center at WSU Spokane.

According to the research, independent of age and gender, urban officers working nights were three times more likely than those on the day shift, and 2.2 times more likely than those on the afternoon shift, to suffer injuries resulting in leaves of more than 90 days.

Learn more about the study

Innovative police safety app debuts at White House conference

Bryan Vila
Bryan Vila

A computer application to help reduce fatigue and improve police officer safety will be presented at a White House innovation conference Tuesday, Jan. 14, by Bryan Vila, professor of criminal justice and criminology, WSU Spokane.

Ten teams from White House “DataJam” safety innovation competitions nationwide were invited to present their projects at the White House Safety Datapalooza in Washington D.C. Vila and his team developed the BeSharp app to monitor objective assessments of police officers’ fatigue rather than depending on self-assessments, since performance can be seriously impaired by the time officers actually feel drowsy.

Read more about BeSharp