Urbana Police Department to repropose plan for Tasers to Urbana City Council

By Fatima Farha

After facing controversy earlier this year, the Urbana Police Department will again propose the use of Tasers to the Urbana City Council in late November.

The Urbana Police Department is currently writing a proposal with the Civilian Police Review Board that they will present to the council at the end of the month, which includes guidelines on how to use the device.

If granted, the Urbana Police Department will start training its officers in December on how to properly use Tasers.

Patrick Connolly, Chief of Police at the Urbana Police Department, said Tasers would prove to be essential in situations where people are committing a crime or potentially harming themselves or others.

“My concern is that more and more, I am seeing those types of situations arise where the officer is limited in their ability to respond to a certain event, either in people harming themselves or trying to harm others,” Connolly said. “The Taser would be a perfect tool to be able to address those without having to resort to deadly force, meaning a firearm.”

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    Connolly said the city’s Crisis Intervention Team would be the first officers to carry Tasers if the proposal is approved.

    He said the Tasers would prevent injuries for both officers and suspects in dangerous situations. After seeing how necessary the use of Tasers was becoming, Connolly talked to the Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing, who also supports the use of Tasers.

    In April, representatives from the Urbana Police Department and the University Police Department presented a similar proposal to the city council that was never voted on.

    The proposal was met with outrage, especially from the African-American community.

    During the meeting, members of the NAACP Champaign County branch read the names of those killed by Tasers. Patricia Avery, president of the branch, said the Tasers “could not come at a worse time” and were getting in the way of fixing the relationship between law enforcement and the African-American community.

    Many Urbana residents raised concerns about the dangers of Tasers, while representatives from the police departments claimed the Tasers would be more effective and emphasized that officers would be trained to use them properly.

    Alderman Diane Marlin, Ward 7, said many of the concerns stemmed from stories around the country of when Tasers were misused by police officers. Marlin said there were also concerns with how Tasers would be used against people who should not be exposed to them, such as pregnant women and the elderly.

    She said the city council decided to take more time and think about this proposal while the Civilian Police Review Board worked with the police department to develop a set of guidelines for the use of Tasers. By the end of November, the city council will have the set of guidelines and will make a decision about the proposal after reviewing those guidelines.

    “A subject like this, you take your time and you think about it, and you take very deliberate steps so we get it right,” Marlin said. “I think we are going to have a good policy and one that protects the lives of the citizen and protects the lives of police officers, and that’s the goal of it.”

    The University Police Department has been using Tasers since January 2011, said University Police Lt. Matt Myrick.

    Myrick said the Tasers allowed for more protection for both officers and suspects. With Tasers, the suspects are more likely to comply voluntarily without being harmed, he said.

    “The Tasers are a tool. It’s not the end all, be all. It isn’t going to solve every situation, it isn’t appropriate in every situation. It’s just another tool we have available to us,” Myrick said. “It’s not foolproof, but it certainly causes less injuries to the officer and suspect and allows us to de-escalate and control a situation much better.”

    Other tools such as pepper spray and batons are not always effective and cause more harm than necessary, Myrick said.

    Connolly also said the Tasers would allow for a safer campus community because there have been situations when University students were involved in disputes that could harm themselves and those around them.

    Both Connolly and Myrick stressed that Tasers allow police officers to do their jobs without seriously harming anyone involved and serve the community more effectively.

    Fatima can be reached at [email protected].