If Urbana opts for Tasers, federal grant could pay most of cost
URBANA — Although it doesn't mean officials necessarily will go ahead with the plan, the city would use nearly $15,000 in federal grant money to buy Tasers under a resolution for which city council members could cast their formal approval next week.
That is assuming, of course, that they decide they want to give Tasers to police officers in the first place. The request by police Chief Patrick Connolly to introduce Tasers in his department has drawn both support and opposition from community members, and it appears to still be months before any decision will be made.
City council members this week again voiced their demands that an extensive public-input process be conducted before they make a final decision on issuing Tasers to 10 specially trained police officers.
The city would have until Sept. 30, 2015, to spend the federal grant money from the U.S. Department of Justice. In the recent past, Urbana has used the annual Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant money to pay for things like training, riot gear, a firearms simulator and in-car camera systems.
They do have a plan B in place should city officials deny the Taser request — in that case, the department would use the money to upgrade its shooting range.
The $15,000 would not cover the entire cost of 10 Tasers, which Connolly estimates to be about $1,700 per device.
But the decision as to whether Urbana police officers will even get the weapons is a ways off. Connolly this week said he and other police officials plan to work with the city's civilian police-review board to draft a policy for issuance and use of Tasers to officers trained as part of the department's "crisis intervention team."
That team is specially trained to respond when people who have mental or behavioral health issues come into contact with police.
Officials plan to review Taser policies from agencies around the state and other areas and pull what they believe are the best parts of those. Trained Champaign County sheriff's deputies and University of Illinois police officers already carry Tasers.
Connolly said that, when the policy comes together, it will be pretty clear that Urbana's will be the "most restrictive" as far as when officers are allowed to use Tasers on people.
City council members said again this week that they want that draft policy offered for public discussion multiple times and in different venues before it is brought to a formal vote.
Connolly has defended Tasers as a less-than-lethal tool for police to keep both officers and the public safe when someone is acting irrationally or combatively. City council members said everyone in the community needs to be on the same page before they sign off on Tasers.