Champaign police seek OK for Tasers

 

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University of Illinois police have 31 of them. Urbana has six. And the patrol division of the Champaign County Sheriff's Office has 54 — one for each deputy.

Next week, the only major police department in central Illinois without Tasers plans to renew its request to purchase 25 of the controversial stun guns.

Champaign police will state their case to the city council Tuesday night, 11 years after their initial request, which was rescinded after considerable pushback from the community in 2004.

"I think it's different this time around," said Councilwoman Marci Dodds, who noted she hadn't heard any negative feedback from the community recently about the idea.

During a series of meetings this spring, Champaign police floated the idea in the community. Chief Anthony Cobb said equipping his department with Tasers could significantly reduce the number of use-of-force injuries by police.

In the past decade, Champaign police have called for help from Taser-equipped local law enforcement agencies on 12 occasions.

"Champaign has had Tasers as long as we have; they just come in brown uniforms," Sheriff Dan Walsh said.

Walsh instituted Tasers in 2004, and he said they have been helpful, even lifesaving, tools. Just the presence of Tasers makes officers and citizens safer, he added.

"People know what a Taser is. Most people see a Taser and comply," he said.

Since Champaign's 2004 request, much has changed, says recently appointed Councilwoman Clarissa Fourman. Under Cobb, she said, police have made significant strides in their relationship with the community.

"The time to have a discussion is definitely here," she said.

Fourman said she hasn't made up her mind on the Taser issue — and won't until she hears from the public.

"I'm hoping that the people will let us know what they think," she said.

Councilman Vic McIntosh, a strong supporter, said the technology has evolved in the last decade. A camera starts recording automatically when the Taser's safety is switched off, "so we know absolutely everything that transpires after that," he said.

And the Taser will only dispense so much voltage before it resets, "just to make sure someone doesn't get jolted forever."

"I feel strongly that our police force, in limited numbers, should have these," McIntosh said.

He said Tasers are most useful as a deterrent in domestic disputes, one of the most dangerous situations for police officers.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, when that person knows there is a Taser on board, the situation gets resolved. They give up. The don't want to be Tased," he said.

"It's just another tool in police agencies' arsenals to try and solve people's situations, to save injuries not only to the citizens of the community but also the police officers."