Safety measures presented in Worship Center Protection seminar

Safety measures presented in Worship Center Protection seminar
Over 80 church and law enforcement representatives learned about safety in churches, what incidents can occur, how to provide security and more during a Worship Center Protection seminar held at the Daleville Cultural and Convention Center on Friday, June 8.

Representatives from the Abbeville Police Department, ALEA Highway Patrol, All Tribes Native American Assembly of God, Ashford Police Department, Barbour County Sheriff's Department, Brundidge Police Department, Clayhatchee Police Department, Clayton Baptist Church, Clayton Police Department, Columbia Police Department, County Line Missionary Baptist Church, Crossroads Community Church, Daleville Christian Fellowship Worship Center, Daleville Police Department, Elam Baptist Christian Fellowship Church, Eufaula Police Department, Geneva First Assembly of God, Geneva County Sheriff's Department, Hartford Police Department, Headland Police Department, Houston County Sheriff's Department, Level Plains Police Department, First Baptist Church of Level Plains, Midland City Police Department, Piney Grove United Methodist Church, Pinkard Police Department, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Samson First United Methodist Church and Union Baptist Church attended the seminar led by Bob Thetford.

Thetford, who has worked for over 25 years with the FBI and as a police instructor and government mediator, spoke about the history of active shooter incidents, types of threats found in churches and the need for crisis plans for any situation.

Thetford, referencing, said there have 1,705 church-related deadly force incidents since 1999 as of January. There have been 811 church-related incident deaths since 1999.

He shared data that stated only about 44 percent of worship centers "with more than 200 attendees don't have a formal safety and security program for their congregation," and around "90 percent of churches in the U.S. have no armed security team."

Despite these numbers, he said, only about 4 percent of active shooter incidents occur in worship centers.

"While active shooter incidents in churches are very rare – only 4 percent of all active shooter incidents occur in churches – it's still a worrisome situation," he said.

The seminar did not only focus on active shooter situations, however. Thetford also discussed the top six church threats, which include burglary, embezzlement, robbery, vandalism, theft and child molestation.

"Also, what we're going to do is look at the other criminal events that might happen in churches and how they can make their churches less of a soft target," he said. "They're much more likely, for example, to be burglarized, or to have child molestation, or embezzlement even, with churches statistically than they are to have an active shooter, so what I'm trying to do is get them to think, 'What can I do in my church?'"

He focused on prevention, what to do during a crisis incident and how to deal with the aftermath of any incident that occurs.

For prevention, he discussed active shooter training, or ALICE training; creating a crisis plan; and possibly creating a safety team for the worship center or church.

He suggested that the crisis communication plan include areas addressing contact lists, safety teams, prevention activities, evacuation procedures and media inquiries.

If a church or worship center decides to create a safety team, Thetford discussed the pros and cons of having one in the church. He focused on the members themselves, as well as the visibility of the team and protocols and procedures for having an armed security team.

He suggested churches should also have emergency crisis plans in place for any kind of emergency situation that could arise, including natural disasters, medical emergencies, bomb threats and more.

He reviewed the legal aspects of security in churches and worship centers, including gun laws.

He also suggested churches and worship centers set a point of contact for media inquiries and statements to prevent confusion in the aftermath of any incident.

Throughout the seminar, Thetford referenced biblical passages, as well as the statements of well-known church leaders to share a biblical point of view on the topic of safety and security in church.

"If they're going to sell some type of security team, they have to do it from a biblical perspective," Thetford said. "They're not businesses, so you wouldn't come at it from that perspective.

"It is what would God have them do? Do they have a biblical duty to protect their flock, and if so, what would that duty be? You find, because you've got a variety of denominations here, you find that people have differences in views on how that should happen or if it should happen."

He said he hoped to have a discussion between the church representatives and local law enforcement on safety plans and providing security in churches.

Thetford said churches should at least evaluate their security measures and plan for any situation.

"The best thing that could happen would be (for churches) to look at their site security, whether it needs to be tightened or changed, and then make those steps," he said. "Number two, come up with protocols or plans for a number of things, not just human-related incidents, but things like natural disasters. Three, if in fact something is to occur, how do they handle it? That involves coming up with a plan and training."

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