Police review board chair sees benefit to Tasers

URBANA — The chairman of the city's civilian police review board said he thinks Police Chief Patrick Connolly's proposal to equip 10 officers with Tasers would give them a non-lethal option they need.

Connolly on Wednesday made his presentation about Tasers to the police review board. Chairman Tom Costello said Tasers would be a good tool in the hands of police officers who are increasingly dealing with people who have mental health issues.

Police officials told the city council this month that, as the state cuts funding for mental health resources, the number of times police have been called to deal with mentally ill people has jumped from 163 in 2011 to 450 in 2013. Those mentally ill people often pose a danger to themselves or others and do not listen with reason to police officers' commands.

"There's not a rational way to deal with that," Costello said. "The penalty for that shouldn't have to be death because the only option the police officer has is a weapon. This way we've got some choices."

Wednesday's police review board discussion was for information only, but Connolly is scheduled to make his formal request for 10 Tasers to city council members on Monday.

Connolly said he understands "this is a very controversial topic," and that's why his request is limited to 10 Tasers instead of introducing them department-wide. The stun guns would be issued to Crisis Intervention Team officers, who are specially trained in dealing with people who have mental health issues.

No one from the public spoke on the topic during Wednesday's meeting.

The police review board would play a role as the department develops its policy and rolls out Tasers. Under the police chief's proposal, the board would review every incident where a Taser was used and talk about whether that use was appropriate.

"From our perspective, we're happy to have the oversight," Costello said. "And I think that's the kind of thing the citizenry can expect from their police department."

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