The past two weeks in my Sociology of Guns seminar we have been talking about the use of lethal force, one week focused on police and one week on non-sworn civilians. Given my background, I cannot speak to either of these issues other than through scholarly studies. So I was pleased to bring in someone who has both a practical understanding of and prudential wisdom on the topic: Craig Douglas.

Craig Douglas teaching in “Sociology of Guns” course at Wake Forest University, March 2019. Photo by David Yamane

Douglas began the session by taking Q&A from my students. Their questions tended to focus on his background as an undercover narcotics agent, the type of work he did, the danger and complexity of the situations he had to negotiate, and so on. He received and answered all of these questions with humility and patience, which the students appreciated.

We then turned to what Douglas calls an “Experiential Learning Lab” in which students negotiate ambiguous scenarios he designs and supervises. He set up a scenario in which he and a student confederate were in a struggle (in a Wal-Mart parking lot, of course) and the student negotiating the scenario was a police officer called to investigate the disturbance. The student role-playing the police officer had basic information to work from (as is often the case in reality) and was armed with a Glock 17 training gun loaded with a blank.

Douglas ran the scenario with two different students and in both cases the outcomes were sub-optimal. In the first case, the role-player put the good guy (who had been stabbed) on the ground and protected the perp. In the second case, the role-player quickly shot the good guy.

Craig Douglas de-briefing a scenario in “Sociology of Guns” course at Wake Forest University, March 2019. Photo by David Yamane

An important part of the lab teaching process is the post-scenario de-brief. Here Douglas walks the role-players through their thought and decision-making processes. The lessons are both immediate (“experiential”) and reflective. The point is not to tell students what the right course of action was, but to highlight the difficulty of pursuing a good course of action under challenging circumstances.

Craig Douglas teaching in “Sociology of Guns” course at Wake Forest University, March 2019. Photo by David Yamane

In their written feedback on Douglas’s visit, the students raved about learning from his experience and the scenarios.

Student 1: I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed Craig Douglas’ visit in class the other day! He was absolutely fascinating to listen to, and it was undoubtedly my favorite class session ever at Wake. . . . I also really appreciated the demonstration that he facilitated. It showed how incredibly difficult the decisions that law enforcement officials make truly are, and it put the discussion from our previous class a little bit more into perspective.

Student 2: The simulation was valuable in helping to understand how quickly decisions have to be made and how biases can impact decision making in stressful situations.

Student 3: I learned a lot through the demonstration. Enacting a common scene that police offers are put within, especially one that was so dynamic and full of hidden biases, was extremely beneficial. I had the time to process what I might have done and also see other people fall victim to the biases trap. I personally believe I would have shot Craig assuming he was the bad guy. This is revealing to me about my biases as well as giving perspective on the difficult decisions people must make every day, and the finite details that must be seen and reacted to quickly.

A great deal of learning took place in a mere 75 minutes, highlighting the efficacy of Douglas’s approach. Although our discussions of use of force before Douglas visited were thoughtful, they were also necessarily abstract. His talk and lab grounded our discussion and took it to another level of understanding.

I owe some thanks also to the Wake Forest University Campus Police, specifically Executive Officer Brian Blakley and Officer J.B. Davis, for allowing Douglas to use his training guns in my class.

Douglas’s visit to my class was followed by his teaching an Extreme Close Quarters Concepts course near Winston-Salem, which I was fortunate enough to attend. I will have more to say about that experience in forthcoming posts. Suffice to say I was not smiling as much then as I am in the photo below with Douglas. He, by contrast, was.

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