Urbana Chief Wants Officers To Carry Tasers
Urbana’s police chief expects to make a formal pitch later this month that some officers be allowed to carry Tasers.
Patrick Connolly plans to show a video to the city council at its April 28th meeting of an arrest made earlier this year. He says a man was discovered wielding a knife, cutting his own wrists, and ignoring officers’ commands to drop the weapon.
Officers used high-velocity rubber bullets, which weren’t effective. And Urbana Police had to call in a Champaign County Officer to Taser the man before his arrest.
Currently, only the County and University of Illinois officers can use Tasers, but Connolly said he’s getting briefed more often on these type of events, and can’t always depend on neighboring officers to be there.
“I don’t want to subject the officer, the family of the officer, the family of the victim, and certainly the victim, to have to go through an event like that – and we have no recourse but to use deadly force," he said. "There’s got to be alternate tool available, and the Taser seems to fit that need.”
A number of other communities, like Rantoul, Decatur, Mahomet, and Bloomington-Normal already use Tasers, but Connolly says there’s a cost factor involved, and the city would have to rely on federal grant money in order to purchase them.
But the chief says the biggest obstacle will be getting city council approval, although he does have the backing of Mayor Laurel Prussing.
Chief Connolly says getting Tasers would be introduced as a pilot program, getting 10 of them for crisis intervention team officers. He said each deployment of a Taser would be examined by Urbana’s Citizen Police Review Board.
The resident who filed the first case heard by Urbana's Civilian Police Review Board says it exposes a flawed process.
Aaron Ammons of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice filed the complaint stemming from an incident in September of last year. He says officers arrived outside a relative's home with guns drawn, when it was learned later than officers arrived at the wrong address, and that someone elsewhere was being threatened at gunpoint. Ammons says an officer threatened him when asking what they were doing at his relative's home.
The case was heard and sustained by the CPRB last week. Urbana's police review panel was first formed in 2008. Ammons says he recognizes nothing else will be heard in his case, but hopes the city has learned some lessons. He says those include bringing the officer or officers cited in a complaint before the panel.
"I think from a public standpoint, it's pretty clear," said Ammons. "It doesn't make sense to have a complaint filed,and go to the CPRB, and the very person that the complaint is filed against doesn't have to show up. That's unacceptable."
Urbana Human Relations Officer Todd Rent says the review panel can subpoena witnesses, but not police officers. He says a police commander sits in on meetings in an advisory role only, without a vote. Rent says there are no other appeals currently waiting CPRB action.
Ammons also contends that the Civilian Police Review Board's Chair, Tom Costello, was trying to justify the officer's behavior instead of acting independently. Costello says the group followed the process as prescribed by the city's ordinance. But he says it doesn't mean there won't be a review of how that appeal was heard.
"I think we're going to take a look at it, and see how it went, and see if there's some modifications that we need to make," said Costello. "With any part of the process, this is an evolving process, we have to see how it goes."
Rent says of the 6 complaints filed about Urbana police conduct this year, one is still being reviewed by the police department. With its first appeal heard, Rent says he expects future cases to go more smoothly.
Ammons says CU Citizens for Peace and Justice will be working on suggestions of its own to bring before the city.
Talk of a citizens police review board in Champaign has resurfaced, largely at the urging of city council member Will Kyles, and after allegations of a police beating during the arrest of 18-year old Calvin Miller.
At Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting, Council member Karen Foster said she is open to that idea, but she said she'd rather first explore other solutions to resolve communication issues that exist between the police department and the rest of the community. Mayor Don Gerard has said he's open to such a group.