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Criminologist shares good lessons from bad times

VilaPULLMAN, Wash. – Scores of missteps as a soldier and cop in hazardous places have prepared Bryan Vila to make a career of studying deadly errors in his criminology lab at Washington State University Spokane.

His free, public presentation, “Mistaken Adventures around the Globe,” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, in Smith CUE 203 will kick off the WSU Pullman Common Reading Program’s ( guest expert series for the 2013-14 academic year.

Thousands of WSU students will use topics from the common reading book, “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error,” by Kathryn Schulz, in classes, activities and projects. It considers how some of the world’s most outstanding discoveries – and much personal growth – have originated from failure.

common reading“Half a century of stumbles, screw ups and goofs have made me an expert on making the best of an ugly situation,” said Vila, a criminal justice and criminology professor.

“His story plays out like a thriller novel,” said Karen Weathermon, co-director of common reading. “It will be a relevant and exciting addition to our ongoing discussion of error and judgment.”

Vila has been a teenaged Marine on the battlefields of Vietnam, a young street cop in the slums of Los Angeles and a police chief in the dubious island paradise of Micronesia. He will share hard-won strategies for embracing error as inevitable, learning to recover with good humor and wringing good lessons from bad times. 

Leaving lots of time for discussion, he’ll also describe how his one-of-a-kind simulation lab uses normal accident theory to study the impact of fatigue-related errors on deadly force judgment and decision making, police driving and counterinsurgency operations.

Each Common Reading Tuesdays event in fall and spring will touch on themes from the book. On Feb. 24, author Schulz will be on the Pullman campus for the program’s annual invited lecture and visits with students and faculty.

Vila earned his Ph.D. in ecology in 1990 from the University of California-Davis. He has held tenured teaching positions at UC-Irvine and the University of Wyoming. Formerly director of the Division of Crime Control and Prevention Research at the U.S. Department of Justice, Vila joined WSU Spokane in 2005.

With numerous publications focused on fatigued law enforcement agents and a myriad of other criminal justice topics, Vila was honored with a Career Achievement in Scholarship Award in 2012 from the WSU College of Arts and Sciences. He has attracted several millions of dollars in grant funding to WSU Spokane and teaches courses on criminology, policing and crime control.


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