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The taser truth: Part 2

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY -- A taser is something some, but not all, law enforcement officers in Champaign-Urbana have in their holsters.
CHAMPAIGN COUNTY -- A taser is something some, but not all, law enforcement officers in Champaign-Urbana have in their holsters. It's been a controversial tool in the county. WCIA-3's Anna Carrera finds out what officers do if they need one, but don't have one.

The Champaign County Sheriff's Office and UI Police Department have tasers. Officers in Champaign and Urbana city departments do not. WCIA-3 News investigation found out officers from the cities called for taser back-up seven times last year. Each time, they got it.

"You never know what you're going to run into," said University of Illinois Police Officer Aaron Landers. 

One Sunday night in December, officers came to Church Street after police said a man shot his wife while she was driving. Their car crashed into a home and the suspect, Mikal Washington, ran away. Investigators found him a few blocks down the street, barricaded in his basement.

"He was quite severely injured and in a relatively bad mental state," said Landers. "He wasn't complying with our orders."

Champaign police called the SWAT team, including Officer Landers. He used his taser on Washington. Landers said that may have saved the suspect's life.

"He had already hurt himself quite severely and he was bleeding and I am convinced he may have bled out by the time we got a hold of him," said Landers. 

UI officers just got tasers in the past year. Since then, they've provided taser backup to Champaign police three times.

The situation with Washington was one. Another was a domestic dispute where the suspect threatened to kill her mother. The third was a suspect fighting with first responders in an ambulance.

"It gives us another force option that we didn't have before and, unfortunately, our force options before were pepper mace and a straight stick," said Landers. 

The Champaign County Sheriff's Department has been using tasers for nearly a decade. They got them after Dan Walsh started as sheriff. Mike Schlosser, who is the director of the UI Police Training Institute, said tasers are just another tool in an officer's belt.

"Departments that implement tasers, you're less likely to have the potential of, not only officer injury, but also suspect injury," said Schlosser. 

But not everyone agrees. Some citizen groups said they think the weapons can be dangerous.

"A part of community policing is to have the support of your community and the decisions you make," said Schlosser. 

They said they're not necessarily against tasers, but they're worried officers may abuse them.

"If officers are properly trained and held accountable for doing the right thing, it is definitely an excellent tool," said Schlosser. "And, if not, it's not such a good tool."

Each recruit at PTI has the option of getting tased. Many do.

"Within about ten minutes of use being tased, we went out and had pizza and were drinking cokes and having a great time," said Landers. "Versus, if you get sprayed with pepper mace and there  is a long time where you have to be deconned and you have to get that out of your system."

Schlosser said it only lasts five seconds, even though it may seem longer. The current isn't as dangerous as you may expect. A Christmas tree bulb uses one amp of electricity. The taser uses less than .0036 amps.

"We think everybody should have one, all police officers," said Landers. 

Since Champaign and Urbana officers don't have their own tasers, we wanted to know if it was something they may consider in the future.

"There have been several discussions held on conducted energy weapons (tasers) in previous years and under previous administrations," said Champaign's assistant to the police chief Rene Dunn. "The current administration is not willing to revisit this topic at this particular time."

"For now, the Urbana police will not be entertaining the possibility of purchasing tasers," said Urbana Police Chief Pat Connolly.

Landers said he doesn't mind helping the other departments. They call each other for backup on a regular basis. It's not always an ideal situation.

"If I'm the only taser around, I am taken away from my duties as sergeant on the shift, so that kind of leaves our department lacking for a little bit until I get back here," said Landers 

But officers said their main job is to keep people safe, whether they use tasers or not.

The situations we didn't get to talk about are the times the Champaign County Sheriff's Department got called to help Urbana and Champaign police. That happened four times last year. Three involved officers chasing suspects and an arrest was made each time.

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