After 11 years, Champaign City Council Is Ready To Arm Police With Tasers
The Champaign City Council voted 6 to 3 Tuesday night to give preliminary approval for the police department to buy Tasers --- eleven years after the idea drew a negative response from the community.
Police Chief Anthony Cobb says the hostile reception to Tasers in 2004 revealed the department’s shaky community relations, especially with African-Americans.
“And the Department withdrew this request, after hearing public concern, that we will focus on building stronger relationships with our community,” said Cobb. “We took that request to heart.”
Cobb says the Champaign Police Department has worked diligently to improve those community relations. At the same time, he says Tasers continue to show themselves as a useful tool for police that could result in fewer violent altercations and fewer injuries for both police and the public.
“There’s a lot of studies that show use-of-force incidents decline once Tasers were rolled out within a community, because people just don’t want to be Tazed,” said Cobb after the meeting.
District Four Councilwoman Marci Dodds says it’s hypocritical for Champaign not to have Tasers, when it’s calling on other police departments with Tasers to help with difficult cases.
“I have reservations about Tasers,” said Dodds. “But I am comfortable, allowing at least a start to using them, to trying them out, with us watching them, with looking at how they’re used, when they’re used.”
Voting against Tasers were the three persons of color on the City Council, Will Kyles (at-large), Clarissa Fourman (District 1) and Matt Gladney. All agreed that Champaign police-community relations have improved. But they deferred to what they said was continuing opposition to Tasers in the African-American community.
Fourman says she appreciates the arguments for Tasers --- but worries that they might cause some people to be reluctant to call police in times of crisis.
“I guess I’m just concerned on the part of the community, because I don’t want them to be fearful of something else that the police will have,” said Fourman.
Chief Cobb says Tasers are a safer alternative to guns, pepper spray and police batons --- and safer than the Tasers that were in use when his department first considered them more than a decade ago.
If the city council gives final approval at a future meeting, Champaign will join several other central Illinois police departments that use Tasers --- including Urbana, Champaign County, the University of Illinois campus, Rantoul, Decatur and Danville.