“Now remember, don’t put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to kill,” said Adjunct Professor Tiffany Morey to a student as he practiced unholstering a plastic gun strapped to his waist. Chris Berg, a senior criminology major at Southern Oregon University, was about to enter a dramatized scenario modeled after actual officer-involved shootings that had occurred in the past year.
“The main goal here is to hopefully get the students a little nervous,” said Morey during Thursday’s class. “If we can get that heartbeat going, get them a little bit stressed, but put them through a situation to understand how quick it really happens.”
The Shoot/Don’t Shoot scenarios served as a way for Morey to engage her students while offering them an alternative perspective to stories of officer involved shootings. Over the course of two hours, students were separately brought into a large room in the basement of the Stevenson Union where various tables and chairs were staged to represent either cars, scooters or other objects. After strapping on their professor’s personal gun belt, fitted with a plastic gun and handcuffs, they began the scenario in which an upper division criminology student role-played the potential suspect.
“It really opens my eyes for why they’re always so quick to pull their weapons,” said Berg. “You never know. If someone’s not responding, you don’t know if they’re about to pull a gun.”
“I definitely felt a rush of adrenaline. Look at me, I’m shaking right now,” said freshman Criminology major Alexis De La Torre.
Morey’s inspiration for the activity spawned from her experience serving as a cop in Las Vegas for 20 years. She recalled a time in which she patrolled a two-mile area that saw 21 deaths in a three-month period. “I pulled my gun three to five times a night,” she said. “If my gun is pulled, something is not right. It’s a split second in your life and you’re stressed.”
“The thing is is every scenario is different. You never know what’s going to happen, who you’re talking to, how they’re going to respond. You just have to be aware of everything at once,” said James Knowlton, a senior criminology major who role-played as a suspect along with senior and ROTC Army Cadet Wesley Lee.
“A lot of people think you can just shoot someone in the leg and wound them and maybe that will make them stop,” said Lee. “In reality, I think if you had the ability to shoot someone in the leg, you obviously had the ability to do something else before you had to use some sort of lethal force.”
According to the Washington Post, 991 people were shot dead by police in the U.S. in 2015. In the same year, 130 police officers were killed in the line of duty, according to the Officer Down Memorial page.
Morey attributes the cause of most shootings to the inability of suspects to follow the officer’s directions. “I guarantee you, nine times out of 10, it’s because suspects are not following commands,” she said. “The hands are what kill and that’s what we train on continuously. I’ll say ‘did you see their hands?’ and students will say ‘no I didn’t even notice.’ ”
Following Thursday’s class, students were required to answer questions about their experience, such as what they saw, how they felt, the suspects actions, and whether or not they chose to shoot them. In addition, Morey will compare their reactions to those of the officer who the scenario was modeled after.
“There’s no right or wrong to this it’s just going through the experience,” said Morey who hoped that her students would understand the reality of police shootings and the possible consequences of an officer’s actions.
Ashland freelance writer Hannah Jones is editor of The Siskiyou, the Southern Oregon University student-run news website. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.