Virtual Reality

Mike Klarin

Beginning next semester, students studying criminal justice at Northern Michigan University will gain experience in life and death situations without leaving the classroom, following the installation of a new “use of force” simulator in the Thomas Fine Arts building.


“[Law enforcement] has been using simulation in training for a very long time,” criminal justice professor Charles Mesloh, Ph.D., said. “It’s one of the easier ways to teach people a certain skill.”

Armed with an electronically guided pistol and other non-lethal options such as a Taser or pepper spray, students can potentially navigate more than 700 video scenarios controlled by an operator in the back of the room. Events can range from traffic stops to ambushes and hostage situations. The degree of response a student receives will be based in part by how they interact with the people in the simulation, Mesloh said. 

The simulator, Mesloh said, will be the first of its kind anywhere in the United States in a university criminal justice program. It will provide students a new way to learn problem solving skills and respond to situations that may involve the use of force, a vital skill for those looking to enter the world of law enforcement.

Mesloh  is the head of the criminal justice department at NMU. After spending several years in law enforcement, Mesloh transitioned to the academic world, teaching students and running a weapons testing laboratory at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla. until moving to Marquette in 2013.

“Each student will have the chance to go through the simulator between three and four  times per week,” Mesloh said. “Most police officers see the inside of a simulator once a year.”

 “[The simulator] gives [students] an opportunity to see how quickly things can go from bad to worse,” Mesloh said. “Or how a situation can go from bad to good as well.”

        Following their experience in the simulator, students will be required to write a detailed report of the events that went on. In a future class, they may be required to testify in a mock-trial setting using their report, Mesloh said.

        Senior criminal justice major Michelle McCormick said she is looking forward to taking the first class based around the simulator this spring.

        “I am so excited for it,” McCormick said. “I was terrified the class would fill up and I wouldn’t have a chance to take it.”   

        Because she is graduating soon, the simulator couldn’t have arrived at a better time, McCormick said, emphasizing the usable skills she will take with her following graduation.

        “I think it’s a good learning opportunity for criminal justice students,” McCormick said. “Especially those going into law enforcement.”

        Beyond the criminal justice program, Mesloh said at its core, the simulator is very effective at teaching problem solving. Once the new program becomes well established, Mesloh said he envisions opening the simulator to other programs at NMU like social work, nursing and education.

        Local law enforcement officers may benefit as well, since the new system allows operators to film their own scenarios and make use of familiar local surroundings like the NMU campus or in areas such as downtown Marquette.

“We can tailor a scenario specifically to an environment,” Mesloh said.

Junior criminal justice major Joe Duckworth said he had a chance to try out an older simulator at the NMU Regional Police Academy during his orientation and was eager to sign up for the first new simulator class offered next semester.

“[The simulator] sounds like an excellent opportunity for criminal justice students to get experience,” Duckworth said. “It gives you perspective on certain situations out in the field.”

Duckworth also said he believes the installation of the new simulator was well worth the money, considering everything it has to offer.

For students such as Duckworth, who plan to enter the field of law enforcement after graduation, this new educational tool is expected to better prepare criminal justice students for their real world careers, which can make a world of difference when your life depends on it.