Decision on Tasers will take time

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.

2.5 million

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.

99.7 percent

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.

6

Minimum number of training hours recommended by the company that manufactures Tasers. Urbana police officials are recommending 12 hours for their officers.

15,000

More than this number of police agencies across the country are already using Tasers.

Comments

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Roanrider wrote on April 30, 2014 at 8:04 am

Why do people not understand that tasers are not used to "punish people"?? And secondly, that people who are mentally ill and exhibiting violent behavior are EXACTLY the sort of individuals who the taser is meant to be used on. They do not respond to commands, and cannot be reasoned with. Perhaps Ms. Donaldson would prefer to have police officers use deadly force against them? Or does she think that law enforcement gets paid enough to endanger their lives by engaging these individuals in hand to hand combat to subdue them when they are armed with knives, screwdrivers, etc.? Ms. Donaldson is not going to be happy with law enforcement no matter what they do, yet she expects them to protect HER. What a shame.

Julie Watkins wrote on April 30, 2014 at 10:04 am

If there was enough social support and mental health support then the person wouldn't be in the situation where police were called. It's both better for people needing help and for the budget that people get medical help in the right place. 

And someone shouldn't be tased for walking away ("not responding to commands"), and nationally there's an increasing number of cases when tasers (and guns!) are used when there isn't a credible threat. Urbana doesn't need to join the trend of increasing militarization of police.

Roanrider wrote on April 30, 2014 at 10:04 am

So what do you suggest...that they just be let stroll of into the night?

Local Yocal wrote on April 30, 2014 at 10:04 am
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The real shame, or rather sham that is getting tiresome is law enforcement constantly going to the taxpayers for more money, (already in this county we spend over $70 million a year to haul 8000 people to jail and prosecute about 3000 a year and send about 500 to prison) for more weapons to be more violent and aggressive,....and police produce NO STATISTICS OR EVIDENCE that they need the damn things.

How many incidents per year are there where a mentally ill subject overpowered officers? How many incidents per year were there where a mentally ill subject even became physically combative? And really, aren't the most combative subjects actually those who are intoxicated on alcohol? Just how many mentally ill subjects did Urbana police confront all last year?

Where is the documentation to support what Connolly is claiming? Jeez, what other profession can get away with asking shareholders for more expenditures based on imaginary scenarios, anedote, and wishes?

I guess because the always guilt-ridden, awestruck, and intimidated local politicians cave to every demand law enforcement foists, there needn't be any evidence of need provided for the blank-check writers. These politicians will actually believe that spending $23 million more dollars to house the mentally ill in isolation cells is "good treatment" and "best practice" if police tell 'em so.

While we're at it, Hey Jakobsson, can you also buy them some ground to air rocket launchers in case aliens from Mars invade Urbana?   

Roanrider wrote on April 30, 2014 at 10:04 am

Did you not read that a grant will pay for them? And where is it written that they will only be used on mentally ill subjects? Calm yourself, there Spanky.

Sid Saltfork wrote on April 30, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Urbana is in a tizzy over to use tasers, or not.  However in the mean time; they call upon Champaign officers, or the Sheriff's officers to taze subjects for them.  Yep, that is Urbana.  Get someone else to do it, or get grants to get someone else to pay for it.

Local Yocal wrote on May 01, 2014 at 9:05 am
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Now there's a "new" concept: a federal grant is NOT public tax dollars.  

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 01, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Sadly, it is federal tax dollars.  Why should federal tax money be used to fund public safety in a municipality?  The responsibility for streets, police and fire protection, recreation, and education should rest with the community, and state instead of federal funding.

Bulldogmojo wrote on May 01, 2014 at 1:05 pm

I don't know about the rest of you but I love to see a good tazering when some big angry guy who thinks he can attack a cop suddenly turns into Ethel Merman at the end of a tazer wire. (non-lethal guilty pleasure)

Schadenfreude!!

Roanrider wrote on May 02, 2014 at 9:05 am

You make the popcorn, I'll sell tickets - we can help pay for the tasers, no taxpayer $$ needed!!!