Police chief wants Champaign council to consider Tasers again

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Police chief wants Champaign council to consider Tasers again

Subject

Crime,policing, and gangs, civil rights

Description

Champaign Police Cheif R.T. Finney is proposing to the city council, the purchase of 10 tasers to be used by supervisors, crisis intervention personnel, and the SWAT team. He first proposed the purchase of 25 tasers in 2005 but the proposal failed after protests from the black community.

Creator

Mike Monson

Date

15 May 2009

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CHAMPAIGN – Police Chief R.T. Finney says it's likely he'll again ask the city council to allow the police department to buy and use Tasers.

But the leader of a local citizens group vows police will encounter opposition to such a proposal.

Finney said he expects to ask for about 10 of the devices for supervisors, crisis intervention personnel and the city's SWAT team.

The department doesn't have Tasers, but in situations where a Taser might prove useful, it asks the Champaign County Sheriff's Office to send a deputy with a Taser to the scene.

Tasers are powerful electrical weapons that incapacitate by conducting 50,000 volts of electricity into a suspect.

"At this point, even 10 on the street would assure a Taser would be available on most major calls," Finney said.

Finney sought in 2004 to buy 25 Tasers, but the request was pulled after protests from leaders in the black community and when it became clear the council was closely divided.

"We have never completely pulled Tasers off the table," said Finney. "We've been doing quite a lot of research on them and believe there should be further consideration of them."

Finney gave a hint of his intentions at a city council budget session Tuesday. Asked if his department could absorb not filling three patrol-officer positions because of budgetary constraints, Finney said he could easily handle the losses "if I could get six officers off of light duty."

Those officers are on administrative duty, he later explained, because they have been injured on the job. In some cases, that recovery period is just for a few weeks while a strain or sprain heals, but in at least two cases, officers have been performing administrative tasks for almost two years, he said.

"I know we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on medical costs and officer injuries," Finney said. "Preventing one officer from suffering a career-ending injury would be worth the cost of the Tasers."

The police chief added that he doesn't have a time line for introducing the Taser purchase, but said it's "probably something that might come up in the next several months." He added he knows the proposal will again generate controversy.

Aaron Ammons of Urbana, a co-founder of the CU Citizens for Peace & Justice, an advocacy group, said there would be opposition to equipping police with Tasers.

"I think it would absolutely be vigorously opposed," he said. "I'm very surprised the chief would even propose this. A better discussion would be about how the officer injuries occurred and how they could be prevented."

Ammons said Tasers were opposed by his organization, the Champaign County chapter of the NAACP and the Ministerial Alliance, and that he expects those groups have not changed their position.

Barbara Kessel, a member of CU Citizens for Peace & Justice who has studied Tasers, said there have been 341 instances nationally where people have died after being stunned with Tasers.

"Whenever it's possible, the police or the coroner's office will say the death was not due to the Taser, but from cocaine overdose or a heart attack," she said. "Tasers affect people differently. People who have a weak heart or an arrhythmia are more likely to die from an electrical shock than someone who is healthy."

Champaign Police Lt. Michael Paulus, who has researched Tasers for the department, said they can prove useful in a number of different situations. People who are a suicide risk can be brought down safely with a Taser, he said, and the device can be useful when someone is suffering from excited delirium, which often gives a person "superhuman strength" and can cause the use of several officers at once to subdue that person.

Most officers are injured when they encounter an "active resister," Paulus said, a person who resists arrest and fights with police.

"Instead of hitting them with a metal pipe, which is what a baton is, or pepper-spraying them, we think the Taser provides an option that, out in the field, has proven very effective," he said.

Mayor Jerry Schweighart, a former police officer, said he hasn't talked with Finney about Tasers, but he said, "I wouldn't mind seeing it come back, because it's a useful tool."

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Mike Monson, “Police chief wants Champaign council to consider Tasers again,” eBlack Champaign-Urbana, accessed June 15, 2019, http://eblackcu.net/portal/items/show/234.

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