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Loyola Proposes Arming Campus Safety With Tasers

Photo by: Jeff Moriarty/ Creative Commons

Loyola University Chicago’s Department of Campus Safety has proposed arming its officers with Tasers in order to protect themselves and the University community.

The proposal stems from a 2010 incident involving an unarmed campus police officer. The officer sustained undisclosed serious injuries after being attacked by two men on the platform at the Loyola Red Line Stop, just outside Loyola’s Lake Shore campus. The suspects were tasered by Chicago police officers responding to the attack.

According to a post on Loyola University’s Community Relations website, the proposal is due to the “increasing instances of active shooter scenarios on college campuses” combined with the need to maintain a safe environment for students and Campus Safety officers.

Tasers, according to the manufacturer’s website, are to be used to “capacitate dangerous, combative, or high-risk subjects who pose a risk to law enforcement officers in a manner that is generally recognized as a safer alternative to other uses of force.”

Robert Fine, the Director of Campus Safety has confirmed to The Phoenix that only a select group of campus safety officers will actually be armed, and that those who are will have gone through extensive training.

All people who are armed with a Taser, from employees of TASER to police officers, must willingly have the Taser used against them. The training will include education about the usage and risks associated with the weapon, as well as the Taser shot.

Students around campus have mixed reactions to the proposal, but many seem to be negative.

Some link it to a growing uneasiness about weapons in and around schools, especially in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy that left 27 dead in December 2012. The tragedy resulted in a polarized debate about what kind of security schools need; the NRA proposed armed security.

“It seems like a negative cycle waiting to happen,” said Kellen Fisher, 20. “It brings to mind the proposition from the NRA of having armed guards at schools. It seems [like it is] essentially the same flawed idea.”

This December, Chicago police used a Taser against a woman who ripped up a ticket they had issued her for parking in a handicapped space. She was stunned twice, despite the fact that she was eight months pregnant.

Loyola students fear this kind of incident is indicative of what could happen on their campus. Tasers are only intended for use against violent suspects of violent crimes that require incapacitation and officers should be wary of using against people who physically can’t withstand the high-voltage shock.

“Considering that it technically is supposed to do less physical damage, I fear it could be used more during confrontations,” said Trung Nguyen, 20. However, Nguyen does support the proposal.

“I would feel more safe than I do now, but that’s probably because I don’t do anything that will conflict with the law or campus policies,” Nguyen said. “I do question the safety, though, if I find out it can inadvertently be turned on and therefore [harm] the officer and people near.”

Criticism of Taser use also delves into whether it is actually a “safer alternative” to guns. When a Taser is shot, it delivers a high-voltage electric current to the subject, which causes temporary paralysis. However, this current can result in cardiac arrhythmia, a rapid irregular heartbeat, in subjects with pre-existing heart conditions, which results in death.

Sudden death, heart attacks and ventricular fibrillation leading to cardiac arrest can all be caused by the use of a Taser against a subject with pre-existing heart conditions unbeknownst to the officer.

These dangers are disputed on TASER’s website, where they claim that the use of the weapon “dramatically reduces injury rates for law enforcement officers and suspects”. The website also features a “total number of lives saved” which at deadline was 103,081.

Students have been receiving a surge of emails from Campus Safety in the 2012-2013 academic year, resulting in up to five emails a week with subject lines such as “Crime Alert- Armed Robbery at Dorm” or “Crime Alert- Sexual Assault.”

Despite this, students are not worried by their surroundings.  Rogers Park, according to the neighborhood’s website, actually falls “within the top 20 of wards with the least crime”.

Some students question campus safety’s effectiveness before Tasers, arguing that the acquisition of Tasers would not lower crime.

“I don’t support the proposition,” said Kacper Jastrezbski, 20. “I mean, the situations where people are assaulted or mugged… at those points, where was Campus Safety? Whether they had or didn’t have Tasers made no difference then.”

Although there are extremely strong sentiments about it, the proposition is still in its early stages, and has not been decided upon by the University at this time.  The University held an informational meeting and discussion with faculty, students, and Campus Safety on Feb. 11 to hear the variety of opinions.

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.