Over the past few years, there has been an alarming number of shootings conducted by those who wish to cause harm to others for one reason or another. In our current environment, churches must balance the open-door concept with that of a watchful eye on who is entering their facilities. Second only to spreading your beliefs to those who wish to learn, your church should take steps towards protecting those in attendance via security measures. Every member and volunteer has a role to play in the security of your church.
Churches are considered to be “soft-targets” simply because they are generally undefended and therefore vulnerable to attack. In addition, a church usually has an open-door policy wherein its doors are literally open to anyone who would like to enter. As is the nature of any religious organization, there is a basic understanding that anyone who would like to hear the message may enter and partake.
Although this policy is necessary to avoid limiting the church’s message, it also invites those who wish harm to those in attendance. Furthermore, few people pay much attention to their surroundings, especially in a church service environment where one’s attention is usually focused straight ahead.
Policy and Procedures:
Know and understand the capabilities of both your parishioners and local law enforcement. An act of violence can happen in a moment’s notice with little room to escape a situation that can escalate in a matter of seconds.
Take an active approach to learn the capabilities of those in regular attendance as well as the local police department who may have an active shooter quick-response policy in place. Designate a member of your church to meet with the local police and review their strategy for responding to a shooting in your building and educate your congregation on your church’s policies for responding to an emergency.
Make sure your members are aware of the many different rooms located within your facilities both for the purpose of hiding and/or escaping. Emergency contact information for all members, as well as first responders, should be readily available. Everyone in your church should be aware of a rallying point to meet after an event and where to seek medical attention.
If your local police department has an active shooter policy, a lockdown may be the best means to protect your congregation that is in the building during a shooting but outside the immediate danger zone. During a lockdown, certain areas of the church are required to shut, lock, and barricade their doors until police arrive. Those inside during a lockdown should stay away from windows and leave room lights on to ease the police team’s search. A lockdown removes the chaos and confusion of an unplanned evacuation.
Armed security and weapons may seem like an obvious, simple security solution. However, there are many other steps you can take to protect your people. Weapons should only be used as a supplement to other basic security measures such as locking doors, and only if you are willing to carefully manage and control the risk exposure weapons create.
- Initial effort. Most individuals who wish harm upon your church will likely arrive after the service begins. Don’t make entering that easy for an intruder. Close the main doors to the sanctuary once service begins and instruct ushers to meet latecomers and guide them to designated seating areas.
- Early identification. Other than the obvious person approaching with a gun drawn, other signs such as one’s appearance or body language may represent a danger. Staff can identify a threat by monitoring entrances or simply by extending a personal greeting to any person entering
- Minimize risk. Create visual or other obstructions thereby isolating threats from those already seated. This is where a lockdown policy is most effective because it separates and protects the congregation from a gunman.
- Minimize provocation. Deny access to those who are unstable, agitated, angry, or intoxicated. Instruct ushers on how to identify the warning signs of such a person, and coach them to deny access firmly, but respectfully. These warning signs include people who are talking to themselves or are otherwise belligerent.
California law prohibits any person from carrying a loaded firearm (open or concealed) on his or her person or in a motor vehicle in any public place or on any public street in an incorporated city, or in any public place or on any public street in unincorporated territory if it is unlawful to discharge a weapon in that location. However, this prohibition is subject to certain exceptions those with a concealed carry license, or when a person who reasonably believes that his or her person or property or the person or property of another is in immediate, grave danger and that the carrying of the weapon is necessary for the preservation of that person or property.
Taking the above into consideration, a concern for safety and security must take into account those attending church or other related events carrying concealed firearms. This would include both active duty and retired law enforcement and those legally possessing concealed carry permits. As a private property owner, the church can place requirements upon those who wish to enter their property. Unless otherwise restricted by law, private citizens may carry a firearm on church property.
More often than not, there may already be an individual in your church who attends services with a concealed weapon without your knowledge. As a church, you need to decide if you want to be aware of this, turn a blind eye, or encourage it by implementing a security team that is both visible and invisible.
California State Nonprofit Security Grant Program (Assembly Bill 1548):
California has recently established the California State Nonprofit Security Grant Program to improve the physical security of nonprofit organizations, including schools, clinics, community centers, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and similar locations that are at higher risk for violent attacks or hate crimes due to ideology, beliefs, or mission.
The purpose of this program is to provide grants for the purpose of hardening soft targets that are nonprofit organizations and at a high risk for violent attacks and hate crimes by means of funding for security guards, reinforced doors and gates, high-intensity lighting and alarms and any other security enhancement consistent with the purpose of the California State Nonprofit Security Grant
Program in an amount up to $200,0000.
The Nonprofit Security Grant Program funding is focused on target hardening activities. The funding can be used for the acquisition and installation of security equipment on real property. Nonprofit organizations that are eligible to submit applications for the FY 2019 NSGP are those organizations that are described under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and exempt from tax under section 501(a) of such code.
Every church should be prepared with a response team consisting of those with police, military, or medical background. Choose people for this group who will avoid sensationalizing or trivializing your church’s potential for attack. Allow this group to provide ongoing training to the staff and congregation, and to be the spiritual leaders who pray regularly for the safety of your church and its members.
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Disclaimer: Every situation is different and particular facts may vary thereby changing or altering a possible course of action or conclusion. The information contained herein is intended to be general in nature as laws vary between federal, state, counties, and municipalities and therefore may not apply to any given matter. This information is not intended to be legal advice or relied upon as a legal opinion, course of action, accounting, tax or other professional service. You should consult the proper legal or professional advisor knowledgeable in the area that pertains to your particular situation.