In 2015, a shooter went on a rampage inside a Charleston, South Carolina church and left 9 dead parishioners behind. That same year, in Alabama, a gunman was wrestled to the ground and disarmed, but not before several people were shot. In February 2016, a man shot and killed the pastor at a church in Dayton, Ohio. Incidents like these are raising awareness that churches and other places of worship are vulnerable to attack by angry loners who have personal grudges with the targeted victims, and people who have ideological disputes that they feel are best addressed with violence. Statistics indicate that about 10% of all mass shootings take place at churches or on church property. If you’re in charge of a place of worship for your community, it’s time to take a fresh look at security. This is what you should do.
1.) Accept that it is happening.
It’s understandable if you don’t want to take away from the services at the church in order to instruct your staff and parishioners on safety concerns. However, you need to accept that the danger of violence at the church is real. The church leaders, assistants, and congregants all need to be aware that there are concerns and conscious of the sort of violence that’s happening.
Hold security seminars after the regular church services and in the evenings to discuss the growing issue of violence in churches. Awareness and open, honest discussion of the problem is necessary in order to make changes.
2.) Make physical changes.
Modern security is very much about stopping problems before they start, whenever possible. To that end, your church needs locks on the doors and on the windows. You also need to take other steps to visibly increase the security presence of the building, which may discourage someone who simply thinks of a church as an easy target for violence:
- There should be a security guard in the parking lot during worship services. If your church can’t afford that, ask for volunteers from the congregation to handle the duty.
- Security cameras with closed-circuit television monitoring should be used during active services. One study indicated that they cut crime by 51% in parking lots.
- You should have security cameras installed over main entrances and outside the minister’s office.
- Lights with motion sensors should be installed and used at night to prevent a break-in.
3.) Have an emergency plan in place.
Find out who in your congregation is willing to keep an eye on the crowd and look for anything out of the ordinary. Who is willing to help escort someone who is angry, drunk, or high off the property? A few trusted individuals need to be given the authority to quietly step in and handle minor situations before they escalate. Others should be in charge of quietly alerting the police to the situation.
You should also have a plan in case there’s no chance to prevent an act of violence. Since 70% of deaths on the properties of churches and other faith-based organizations are innocent bystanders, you want your congregation to know where to flee for safety. If at all possible, children should be taught to find safety inside the nearest room away from the main area of worship, with the door locked, until the police arrive.
Dealing with the increasing threat of violence in places of worship is an unfortunate reality of our times. But a measured response, complete with basic safety precautions, will help keep your congregation safe. Contact a business, such as TS7 Smart, for more information.