Urbana police may start Taser training in December

Urbana police may start Taser training in December

URBANA — Police Chief Patrick Connolly says he wants to start training officers on how to use Tasers as soon as December and plans to have a draft policy ready for city council approval in November.

Connolly, Lt. Rich Surles and two members of the city's civilian police review board have spent the past couple months drafting that policy, which on Wednesday evening they called more restrictive than any set of Taser guidelines in the area.

"There is no one that will keep track as much ... and also it limits their use both in training and in policy," said police review board member Ricardo Diaz, who was part of the team that drafted the policy.

The eight-page policy on Tasers sets guidelines for who is allowed to carry them, what verbal and visual warnings they must give before firing a Taser, what kind of documentation is needed when Tasers are used, medical treatment for those on the receiving end, supervisor responsibilities and training requirements.

For at least six months following their implementation, the police review board will receive information about every time a Taser is unholstered, and members will get audio and video recordings every time a Taser is fired.

Connolly has been making a push for Tasers for at least eight months, after an incident where Urbana police officers encountered a man who was cutting himself and unresponsive to officers' commands. After several minutes, a Champaign County sheriff's deputy who happened to be nearby arrived and was able to bring the man down with a Taser and they were able to give him medical attention.

Officers with the sheriff's office carry the electronic devices, but Urbana officers do not. Connolly has said the situation could have ended in tragedy if the man became any more aggressive or if the sheriff's deputy hadn't been a few blocks away.

Diaz, who said he did not object to the policy but still wanted to make sure community members can process it and bring forward their concerns, said Tasers will give officers another tool. Among the considerations in writing Urbana's policy was how other departments treat Tasers.

"Ultimately, I think this is arising out of a need to have another option in Urbana, and to see what others were doing was very informative," Diaz said.

A sampling of what's contained in the policy:

— Officers will need to complete separate Taser training and Crisis Intervention Team training. Crisis Intervention Team officers are specially trained to deal with people who have mental or behavioral issues.

— Officers must warn people that a Taser may be deployed before it is displayed.

— "Drive stuns," which are direct applications of the electric current to someone's body, are prohibited.

— Except in "extraordinary circumstances," Tasers may not be used on women who are known to be pregnant, the elderly, juveniles, people with low body mass, or people who are in a position who may be injured if they are stunned (like driving or falling from height).

— Each time an officer uses a Taser, the incident must be thoroughly documented, and that information will be examined by the police review board.

The entire policy is available on the city of Urbana website.

"After doing a lot of reading, we've got a conservative application principle here," said board member Scott Dossett. "Two levels of training necessary for an officer to be able to carry a Taser."

Connolly said some potential applications of Tasers which other departments include — like the "drive stun" technique — were not included as a potential use in the policy "to eliminate any question or alleviate a lot of those concerns" raised by community members and interest groups.

The city council will need to review and approve the policy before officers begin training and eventually carrying them on the street. Taser discussions have filled the city council chambers with concerned residents in the recent past.

Diaz said the better-discussed the policy is in advance, the more prepared everyone will be when the moment of crisis comes.

"This will affect all of our community." Diaz said. "Hopefully not very often, but when it does, it will be very tense moments."

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Local Yocal wrote on October 23, 2014 at 10:10 am
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Documentation should include either a video camera mounted on the barrel of the taser; or body cams on the officers. Diane Marlin, care to weigh in?