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Criminology / Criminal Justice

Just Mercy
Spring 2016

Just Mercy

Dozens of witnesses, including a police officer, saw Walter McMillian at a church fish fry when a young woman was killed in nearby Monroeville, Alabama in 1986.

Police later arrested the self-employed African-American tree trimmer anyway. A nearly all-white jury convicted him and a judge sent him to death row. That’s where Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard-educated lawyer, met McMillian.

Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, battled a hostile criminal justice system to uncover improperly concealed evidence that led to McMillian’s exoneration in 1993.

But the frightening way McMillian was so quickly condemned raises broader questions about America’s criminal justice system, which incarcerates more … » More …

Nancy Rodriguez, Courtesy National Institute of Justice
Spring 2016

Beyond Just Training: A conversation with NIJ Director Nancy Rodriguez

Police training is just one piece of the complex scientific puzzle to measure law enforcement effectiveness, says Nancy Rodriguez PhD ’98, the director of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The NIJ is the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, and Rodriguez was appointed in October 2014 by President Barack Obama.

“This goes beyond just training,” she says. “In the past there was a focus on behavioral research, or on technology. We need to understand the connections between different areas.”

Rodriguez’s deep expertise—from her doctoral research at WSU with Professor Nicholas Lovrich and later her professional career at Arizona State University—gives her … » More …

Sue Rahr '79. Photo Matt Hagen
Spring 2016

New ways of training police: Sue Rahr ’79

Former King County sheriff and policing expert Sue Rahr ’79 talks about new ways of police training. Rahr was selected by President Barack Obama for the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. She is also director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC), which has moved toward more intervention and de-escalation techniques for police officers.

Read about Rahr’s work:

Creating guardians, calming warriors—A new style of training for police recruits emphasizes techniques to better de-escalate conflict situations (Washington Post, December 10, 2015)

Can Sue Rahr reinvent policing? (Crosscut, April 28, 2015)

Coming soon: A discussion with Sue Rahr … » More …

Police training in a new light
Spring 2016

Police training in a new light

The call came into 9-1-1 from a Spokane YMCA last October: A middle-aged man was threatening to break the kneecaps of an eight-year-old, because he said the boy could “ruin my NBA career.”

Corporal Jordan Ferguson of the Spokane Police Department responded, fully aware of the suspect’s antagonistic and unpredictable behavior. Ferguson’s body camera footage shows what happened next.

In the lobby of the YMCA, an employee first describes the man’s erratic statements. Ferguson tracks the man to the gym, who then walks away yelling. Rather than restraining the man immediately, Ferguson asks him questions and listens carefully and calmly, taking his time as the … » More …

Faith Lutze
Spring 2015

Prisoner guardians

Criminal justice doesn’t end when the prison gate clangs shut behind the departing offender. Unseen, but of great value, are the officers who serve as guardians on the outside, watching over the former prisoners and guiding their integration back into society. While community corrections officers, generally known as parole and probation officers, help offenders transition from prison, they also safeguard the public.

The work of these officers in the criminal justice system only seems to come to light when an offender does something horrible. Considering that around 16,000 released prisoners are currently under supervision in Washington state, the many success stories of these officers usually … » More …

Fall 2013

If You Don’t Snooze, You Lose

About an hour before sunrise on August 27, 2006, Comair Flight 5191 was approaching 120 miles per hour on its takeoff from the Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky, when co-pilot James Polehinke noticed something strange about the runway.

“That is weird,” he said in a conversation captured by the flight recorder. “No lights.”

“Yeah,” said Capt. Jeffrey Clay.

Sixteen seconds later, their 50-seat commuter jet ran out of runway. Polehinke just managed to get airborne but not enough. The plane hit an earthen berm, clipped a fence and a clump of trees, and went down in a ball of flames.

The pilots had gone … » More …

Bryan Vila (second row) joins police officers—his trainees—in a 1979 ceremony to celebrate Kosrae’s status as a state in the newly formed Federated States of Micronesia. Courtesy Bryan Vila
Summer 2013

Training the island police

When he learned about a job training police in the Pacific islands of Micronesia in 1978, former Los Angeles police officer Bryan Vila seized the opportunity to work in paradise. Little did he know that the hard lessons of teaching police officers from 2,000 different islands over six years would make him an expert on training in other cultures.

Vila, now a Washington State University professor of criminal justice and criminology at the Spokane campus, had been a Marine in Vietnam as well as a member of the sheriff’s department in Los Angeles, when he landed with a bang on an unpaved runway in Saipan.

» More …