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Theater, criminal justice join forces at ENMU


April 11, 2018

PORTALES — Theater and law enforcement: While those two sound like a match akin to cops and robbers, they're being used together to educate tomorrow's law enforcement professionals.

Don Raley, a criminal justice instructor at Eastern New Mexico University, explained that he was in need of an interactive piece for a class he's teaching this semester called "Advanced Criminal Investigations." He wanted to be able to simulate a homicide investigation, and figured there would be no one better equipped to help than the college's theater students.

The criminal justice students have a list of eight witnesses — played by the theater students — from which they must choose their suspect. They interview the witnesses, gather evidence, and even obtain search warrants over the semester until they have enough information to solve the case, Raley said.

"Basically what we do is, the actors are spread in different areas in the buildings of the (Campus Union Building) and bookstore, and the groups basically are given information to interview. And they're given clues as to who else might have more information and where those people might be found," he said.

"It's up to the investigating group to go to that portion of the campus, find that witness, interview that witness, and from there, go to another witness those witnesses give them, or go to conduct search warrants or look for evidence they may get from those statements."

This type of simulation allows the criminal justice students to get comfortable in uncomfortable situations, according to Raley.

"It's just meant to ... make them make decisions in a relatively short time period — exactly what they'll be doing in the field when they go into law enforcement," he said.

The criminal justice students aren't the only ones learning from uncomfortable situations, according to theater student Alex Bizon.

"We had been given an information sheet about who we were and all this other stuff, but they asked a lot of questions about none of it. They asked a bunch of questions that had nothing to do with the information I was given," he said, adding that he was challenged to employ one of theater's most important tools:

"Most of it was me improvising answers that I didn't have any information on," he said.

The information the actors are given is meant as a foundation from which they must create their characters, according to theater student Raquel Valenzuela.

"If they ask us questions like, 'What do you do in your free time,' we have to come up with those things. I think that's the most valuable, is to be able to flesh out that character so much," she said.

Character development is an integral part of playing any role, Valenzuela said, adding that the class is a great place to sharpen that skill.

"As an actor, we have to be able to look at a character that we're playing and do that all on our own. We have to come up with who they are, what they want, what their intentions are, and so this is a great way to help do that," she said.


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