Decision on Tasers will take time
The Urbana City Council is in for a long discussion on Tasers after it held its first public debate over the stun gun devices this week.
"It's got to be a long conversation," said Alderman Eric Jakobsson. "From the meeting (Monday), we saw that people were coming from very, very different perspectives, and I think it would be a very bad thing for this to be resolved without everybody in the community feeling that they were really heard and really listened to. That's actually perhaps even more important than where we come out."
The debate over whether to buy 10 Tasers for specially trained police officers could last months, and police and city officials still need to figure out what would go into a policy governing when they are and are not to be used. Concerns persist about the safety of the devices and whether police officers will use them properly.
HANDLE WITH CARE
The Taser model many law enforcement agencies carry today generates 50,000 volts of electricity, a stunning number that stirs up concern in a lot of critics.
By comparison, a wall outlet in a home typically generates 110 volts — but law enforcement officials say don't let those numbers shock you. It's the amperage of electricity that drives the danger, and with Tasers, the amperage is very low.
Think of it like how water flows, Police Chief Patrick Connolly says in his memo to the city council. Voltage is like water pressure and amperage is like a flow rate.
Even though the "pressure" of a Taser device might be very high to force its way through the natural electrical resistance of the human body, the "flow rate" of the electricity is very low. It's like a very small amount of water being driven forward with a lot of force.
To compare a Taser to the wall outlet again: A 110-volt wall outlet "flows" at 16 amps. The 50,000-volt Taser flows at 0.0021 amps. Still, in most cases, it will be more than enough to interfere with human physiology and cause involuntary muscle contractions that temporarily render someone completely immobile — a phenomenon called "neuromuscular incapacitation."
THE CASE FOR
"It gives us an option besides lethal force. It gives us an option besides using a lot of physical force where either a citizen or an officer is in danger of getting hurt. It's an extremely useful tool when we're dealing with people who have a lot of emotional or physical stress, excited delirium people. It's almost the only way with those folks." — Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh
THE CASE AGAINST
"I'm a member of the UCAPP (Urbana Community And Police Partnership) team with Chief Connolly. They talked about mental illness, mental illness. Mental illness people don't need to be punished with a Taser. There's got to be another way. ... (When I saw a Taser demonstration), it brought tears to my eyes. So no, I don't want to see that for anyone." — Urbana resident Carletta Donaldson
BY THE NUMBERS
$1,700 Connolly expects each Taser to cost this much. With related training equipment and warranties, the total cost could be as high as $26,000. There's no money in the city budget right now, so police would hope to pay for them with grant funding.
The estimated number of times humans have been struck with Tasers — either in the field, training or for research — since they became widely used in 1999.
This many people escaped Taser strikes with minor or no injuries, according to a Wake Forest University study. The rest suffered significant or potentially lethal injuries.
Minimum number of training hours recommended by the company that manufactures Tasers. Urbana police officials are recommending 12 hours for their officers.
More than this number of police agencies across the country are already using Tasers.