Urbana City Council to discuss Taser purchase

By Fatima Farha

The purchase of Tasers by the Urbana Police Department has generated much debate within the Urbana City Council, the Civilian Police Review Board and the Urbana Police Department over the last 11 months.  

At its Jan. 12 meeting, the Urbana City Council passed a motion to defer the decision for another two weeks, during which time community members could review the Taser policy online and raise their concerns during the Jan. 26 meeting. The council expects to come to a decision at the meeting.

Alderman Diane Marlin, Ward 7, said the Urbana Police Department has been working with community members and the Civilian Police Review Board to set up a policy that will tackle the guidelines required when it comes to purchasing and using Tasers.

These guidelines require that police officers undergo crisis intervention training and list when Tasers are appropriate to use. To enforce these guidelines, the policy will require a public oversight and meeting every time a Taser is unholstered, and when it is discharged. 

“The two things combined provide for probably some of the strictest guidelines for the use of Tasers anywhere,” Marlin said. “And it’s a very unique way to publicly review every single time they’re even pulled out of the holsters as well as actually deployed.”

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    Marlin said the policy only allows specially trained police officers to carry Tasers and, if they are approved, there will only be six Tasers purchased by the police department.

    She said the Civilian Police Review Board, along with suggestions from city council members, has tried to construct a policy that finds a balance between the opposition and the support of Tasers.

    Alderman Charlie Smyth, Ward 1, also feels the guidelines highlighted in this policy are very strict about when and how a Taser can be used.

    “A very specialized situation, that’s how I personally would like to see this, if it’s approved, move forward,” Smyth said. “It’ll be experimental and used on only very, very rare and very specific occasions.”

    Smyth said the program will be reviewed after one year if the purchase is approved.

    While most members of the city council were on board with the purchase of Tasers, several members of the community raised concerns during the city council meeting on Jan. 12.

    Brian Dolinar, a member of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, spoke to the council, stating that his group is opposed to Tasers due to health and abuse concerns. He also said there has not been enough discussion on the issue.

    “We also want to note that there have been public comments forwarded from individuals, comments which have not been incorporated into any final force policy,” Dolinar said. “So we think that there is still serious debate and deliberation that needs to take place here in these chambers.”

    Dolinar, along with community members Aaron Ammons and Martel Miller, also raised concerns regarding a lack of African-American representation during the meeting because they believe the minority group has been targeted the most by Tasers in the past.

    Dolinar, Ammons and Miller agreed that there would have to be more feedback from a qualified representative of the African-American community for the city council to vote on whether Tasers should be purchased. 

    Despite these concerns, Marlin said Tasers are always going to be used in Urbana, whether or not it is by the Urbana Police Department because there have been instances when the police officers have called on the University Police Department or the County Sheriff to use Tasers. 

    “Do we want our own officers carrying Tasers who have been trained according to the way we want them trained and who are adhering to the set of guidelines developed here in Urbana, and who are accountable to the people in Urbana?” Marlin asked. “Or are we going to continue to have Tasers used by officers from other jurisdictions, with no control over training and no accountability?”

    The ordinance for the policy is available on the Civilian Police Review Board website, where members of the public may view the ordinance and come up with suggestions and think of any concerns they have, which they may present at the next City Council meeting during public comment.

    Urbana Chief of Police Patrick Connolly said he could not comment on the purchase until the final decision is made at the upcoming city council meeting on Monday.

    Fatima can be reached at [email protected].