Faith Leaders and Law Enforcement Rethink Safety and Security in the Wake of the Church Shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas
Faith Leaders and Law Enforcement across the country are rethinking the issues associated with
safety and security for Places of Worship. If your Faith Leader hasn’t yet developed or
considered organizing a safety plan and security ministry team, now is the time to do so. The
massacre at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina,
on June 17, 2015 resulted in the deaths of nine church members and the recent mass shooting, the
nation’s worst mass shooting in a place of worship killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in
Sutherland Springs, Texas has many people questioning how such a horrific crime could take place
in a house of God. These events prove that it doesn’t matter if your Place of Worship is located in a
large city with a congregation size of 5000 or in a rural community, where everyone knows each
other. Now is the time to prepare starting with a written crisis management plan and training
for Faith Leaders, staff, volunteers and congregants.
Since 1999, there have been more than 1000 incidents of deadly force at faith-based organizations.
Places of worship shouldn’t have to have security every time they meet for a Bible Study or Worship
Service but with recent events, safety and security of worshippers warrants attention, assessment and
focus. Some places of worship are open late into the evening, have no fee to enter and are open to
strangers. Places of worship and faith-based social service agencies such as Catholic Charities,
Lutheran Family Services, and the Salvation Army have become soft targets according to the FBI.
Faith-based organizations need a crisis management plan that includes an identification and
prevention of threats, an evacuation plan in case of fire or bomb threat, the handling of a disruptive
person during a service, specific concerns during mission trips, and how to protect children and
at-risk members. Some Faith leaders feel that they don’t need such a plan because God will protect
their Place of Worship.
The realities of today requires results oriented involvement and intervention. In August of 2015, the
Charleston County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina hosted five days of training classes entitled
Safety and Security for Places of Worship: Keeping Your Church and Ministry Safe in an Uncertain World.
The Training was open to Faith Leaders and staff members of religious organizations, places of worship,
faith-based social service providers and law enforcement personnel. Over 250 people attended
during the five sessions. According to Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon, “This is a great way to
connect with the Faith Communities in your jurisdiction. We are talking about Community Policing
in the 21st Century, developing relationships and collaborating.” The one-day training class was
provided by Training Force USA, a law enforcement training company based in Tallahassee, Florida.
The training was developed and facilitated by Certified Law Enforcement Trainer and Crisis
Management Specialist, Thomas Gillan – Director of P S U Crisis Management and Training Group,
Inc. Claude Pichard – Director of Training Force USA reports that Training Force USA provided
this specialized training for law enforcement agencies and places of worship in Texas, Louisiana,
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania
Tennessee, and Michigan. The class was updated in 2017 and now titled A Sensible Response to Safety
and Security for Places of Worship.
Instructor Thomas Gillan remarked, “In this one-day training we cover more than just an active
shooter. We must look at the “BIG PICTURE” including liability and insurance issues concerning
crimes and firearms, medical emergency response, natural disaster preparation, child and youth
ministry protection, crime prevention, developing policies and procedures, background screenings
for employees and volunteers, recruitment and training of safety and security ministry team
members and the importance of working closely with law enforcement and first responders.”
Gillan continues by saying, “Security has not been of utmost focus for many Faith Leaders planning
and building a Place of Worship. They’re thinking about space, acoustics, sound equipment and
musical instruments needed, visual aesthetics such as the design of the altar, the placement of art or
statues, and the cost of the stain glass windows.”
TRAINING IS AVAILABLE…BE SURE TO EVALUATE THE LIABILITIES
Many Law Enforcement Agencies are offering a two-hour training for churches on how to respond
to an active shooter. Some Law Enforcement Officials are suggesting that Faith Leaders and
church members obtain concealed weapon permits and carry guns. Please note that there is a liability
that goes along with that suggestion. Law Enforcement Officers are highly trained with
weapons. They practice Shoot – Don’t Shoot Scenarios and re-qualified with weapons at a minimum
annually. The average gun owner buys a gun, attends a four-hour concealed weapons training,
applies for the concealed weapons permit and goes to the range once in a while, making them a
proficient gun owner. Take for instance the two people shot in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. Police say
two people were accidentally shot at a church in Tellico Plains Thursday afternoon during a
discussion about the recent church shooting in Texas. Police reported that elder members of First
United Methodist Church were meeting for a Thanksgiving dinner around 1p.m. and began
discussing the Texas shooting when someone asked if anyone brought a gun to their church. A man
spoke up and said he carries his everywhere he goes. He pulled the gun out, emptied the magazine
and chamber, and then started passing the gun around. Once the gun came back around to its
owner, police say the man put the magazine back in and recharged the chamber, but accidentally
squeezed the trigger. The gun went off, hitting the man in the hand and his wife in the abdomen.
Thomas Gillan suggests “developing a safety and security mindset. And if you have a day-care or
school associated with the place of worship, the risk is heightened making the stakes higher.”
As a Faith Leader have you ever thought about these situations?
- A child goes missing from the children’s care ministry during Sunday morning service.
- A violent or unstable person enters and disrupts the sanctuary during the Sunday Service.
- Your receptionist is confronted by a hostile person at the church office.
- A non-custodial parent takes their child from the ministry classroom without proper authority and leaves the church.
- A church mission trip to Mexico turns into a hostage situation with a group of missionaries from your church.
- A person shows up at church with a gun…..
What Do You Do? Are you prepared? Is your church staff and ministry team prepared?
“The inside of any church is a sanctuary. When a person enters, he or she has the right to worship,
pray and learn in a safe and secure environment. For anyone to murder nine individuals is upsetting,
but to kill them inside a church during a Bible study class is devastating to any faith community.”
+ Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone – Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina
So What Should Faith Leaders Do?
P S U Crisis Management and Training Group offers the following points:
- Consider the Risk: It could happen in your place of worship even though nothing may have happened up to this point. Take a pro-active look at your church and begin to work on a plan…..PLAN YOUR WORK AND WORK YOUR PLAN.
- Develop a SAFETY AND SECURITY WRITTEN MISSION: To Maintain the sanctity of our place of worship and the safety of our congregation by promoting awareness of the need for a safety and security ministry.
- Conduct a vulnerability assessment. Your local law enforcement Crime Prevention Unit can provide this security assessment at no-charge. The security assessment should include a physical and operational analysis.
- Meet with your insurance representative and discuss the risks and share your plans.
- Bring together the stakeholders: Have a meeting with pastors, ministers, staff, volunteers, community leaders and local law enforcement personnel.
- Build a safety and security team. Assign a committee to oversee safety and security functions, leveraging talent, experience and passion of people interested in serving on the safety and security team.
- Develop and write a safety and security policy and procedure document and an emergency action plan. Review the plan with local law enforcement, fire and emergency medical personnel. Inform the church insurance provider.
- Recruit, background check and train all safety and security ministry team members.
- Hire Off-Duty Law Enforcement Officers to work traffic control and be a presence during services.
- Install a video camera surveillance system. CCTV systems not only deter crime and capture incidents, but verify what didn’t happen as well as records critical documentation in false accusation cases.
- Develop a Child Check-In and Check-Out system. Include a child registration system and a 2 tag/sticker system and affix to child and parent.
- Manage the risk of mission trips with your congregation members
- The Aftermath: After an incident, have a care plan in place to deal with trauma and the victims. Have a trained spokesperson that can speak to the media about the incident.
Faith Leaders need to trust God, but be prepared. There must be a balance between Safety,
Security and Ministry. Pastors want churches to be places of worship and hospitality, and a proactive
coordination of safety and security can help protect their flock. Church Safety and Security is about
protecting people and property. Remember one incident can cost your Place of Worship millions of
dollars in law suits. Having a written policy and providing your staff with the proper training can
help reduce the risks. It’s important Faith Leaders follow the four Ps – PRAY, PLAN,
PREPARE AND PRACTICE.
For More Information or to Schedule a Training contact Claude Pichard at TRAINING FORCE USA at 850-251-1223
Thomas Gillan, is Director of The P S U Crisis Management and Training Group, Inc. – A non-profit organization based in North Carolina. Mr. Gillan is a Certified Law Enforcement Trainer and Crisis Management Specialist. He has developed and written policies and procedures for church safety and security ministry programs and is currently providing One-Day Classes for Churches, Ministries, Faith-Based Social Service Organizations and Law Enforcement Personnel. The Class is entitled A Sensible Response to Safety and Security for Places of Worship©. Thomas Gillan is an instructor with the Training Force USA. Thomas Gillan can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or phone 407-497-1465.