The recent Charleston (S.C.) church shooting that has killed nine innocent souls is a stark reminder that the evil in our day will visit us in the most sacred and tranquil places. There will be plenty of talk in the days to come about gun control, hate and mental illness—the same talk repeated after each one of these tragic events.
The violence in Charleston is nothing new in our places of worship. In fact, in the last decade there has been close to 1,000 acts of violence in churches along with 507 incidents of homicide. (See CarlChinn.com for more.) The homicide rate in our churches has been much higher than our schools in recent years. The normalcy of security in our schools should also be mirrored in our places of worship.
If you are a law enforcement officer that attends a church, this is your responsibility. Here is what you can immediately do to prevent or stop the next church shooting.
Understand the Target
Churches are almost always “gun free” zones so just like schools they are easy targets for violent criminals and those that hate authority and religion. Due to their inclusive nature, most churches shy away from a detailed security plan. While visitors should be made to feel welcomed, it is also the duty of our churches to adequately protect them. Both can be accomplished and that begins with you, the security expert, having a discussion with the church leadership. Security cameras, well placed individuals with concealed weapons and training of staff, including volunteers is a start. The first place for your church to start is having a discussion with Officer Jimmy Meeks at Sheepdog Seminars.
Form a Security Team
As a law enforcement officer and church member you should develop a team of individuals in your church trained with a concealed weapon. It may be other officers or citizens but it takes multiple individuals to adequately cover a church property.
Where you sit during church is vital. Treat your church like a restaurant you visit at work. You want a location where you can see entrances and the most attendees that you can. Many church shootings target the pastor and his vulnerability will lie at the pulpit. You need to consider angles, backdrop and a myriad of other issues.
It’s not probable you will be permitted to “lock down” the building but members of your security team should be at each entrance before, throughout and after the service. To a visitor you are a “greeter” but it is part of your safety protocol to assess body language and pre-attack indicators.
I like the idea of using marked police cars and uniform officers outside your church. It’s a preventative measure that may cost some money but could turn away a possible tragedy. While some church leaders may see that as a “tactic” they don’t want to use, we live in a day where many family-friendly locations employ uniformed personnel and it should not be seen a negative. A police presence at a location sends the positive message that protection of the people at that place is the utmost priority.
When multiple buildings are involved, communication between those buildings is vital. Youth buildings are often separate and these large gatherings of youth should concern us just as much as the primary church service. If there is a violent act or concern in one building, the other locations need to know. A “panic” button that sends a color to various screens across the church is very inexpensive and a start toward making sure communication is at it’s best.
These are just a few suggestions but one thing the last decade has shown us is that we must do something. You are sworn to protect those around you and while it’s unfortunate this responsibility lies with you, what an awesome responsibility that it is. Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman once told me that “denial kills you twice.” If we deny this issue and are not prepared, the tragedy will not only kill others but will impact us a great deal. It is our job to protect and that doesn’t stop when you walk into your church.
Travis Yates, Chief Editorial Advisor
Major Travis Yates is the Chief Editorial Advisor for Law Officer Magazine. He began his career in 1993 with the Tulsa (Okla.) Police Department. He currently serves as a Division Commander managing more than 130 officers in patrol, traffic and investigations. Yates received the International Police Trainer of the Year Award in 2008 by Law Officer Magazine. His seminars in risk management and officer safety have been taught across the U.S. and Canada. Yates holds a Master of Science in Criminal Justice from Northeastern State University and is a graduate of the 227th session of the FBI National Academy. Yates is the Director of Training for SAFETAC Training.