Officers want tasers

By Anna Carrera

Published 04/16 2014 05:48PM

Updated 04/17 2014 09:25AM

URBANA -- Most police agencies around Champaign County have tasers. It includes the Champaign County Sheriff's Department, University of Illinois officers and the Illinois State Police. Now Urbana officers want them as well.

Police Chief Pat Connolly says they've been thinking about getting them for a while now. But after an incident a few weeks ago, the discussion is getting more serious. Connolly says someone was trying to commit suicide in the middle of a road with other people around. His officers couldn't get the situation under control until a Champaign County deputy came along and used a taser. Now he says they've seen firsthand how having some of their own would help.

When tasers first came out, some weren't sure they wanted to trust police with them. But University of Illinois officers say times have changed.

"People know what it is and that will gain voluntary compliance, which was ultimately our goal anyway," said University of Illinois Police Deputy Chief Skip Frost.

Campus police have been using tasers since 2012. Since then, they've sent mutual aid to Champaign and Urbana officers, since they don't have them.

"If you're going to accept that help in the first place, I don't understand why it wouldn't be more widely utilized," said Frost.

The question came up around the community again after a video came out. It shows a Champaign officer fighting with someone earlier this month.

"A lot of the commentary surrounding that is, 'why wasn't he tased?'" said Frost. "Well, he's not tased because the officer didn't have access to it."

Champaign police say they have no "official" position on the use of tasers. But Urbana's chief says it's time to take a stand.

"My biggest concern is we've seen a steady increase in the number of mental health related events and unfortunately we're putting ourselves in a position where, at some point, the police are going to have no option but to use deadly force because we don't have other tools available," said Connolly.

Connolly says he's willing to go above and beyond as they look to add tasers to their tool belt.

"I'm going to ask the civilian police board to help me build the policy that everybody's comfortable with," said Connolly.

He says even though they haven't had them before, they want to make a change.

"The city wasn't ready for it," said Connolly. "I hope they're ready for it now."

The chief's plan includes getting ten tasers for their crisis intervention officers, since they're most likely to need them. He'll present the idea at the city council meeting on April 28. People are invited to be there to give input as well.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says, historically, people in the city haven't wanted tasers. Prussing says that's because they're new and people thought they could be dangerous. She says she looks forward to hearing from both sides of the issue. Prussing says she saw the video of the situation Connolly was talking about. That's what made the idea hit home for her.

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