Modern-Day Church Security
MODERN-DAY CHURCH SECURITY
Churches are particularly susceptible to the actions of violent criminals. Criminal acts committed by terrorists against houses of worship in other countries have included arson, small arms attacks, assassinations, kidnapping, use of explosives, and chemical and biologicals attacks.
Personal conflict and domestic spillover are likely the largest motivations for aggravated assault and murder within houses of worship in the United States. Motivations may also include religious bias, political conflict, mental illness, and robbery in parking lots.
It is important to understand that an incompetent response to an active shooter, no matter how well-intentioned, may cause injury or death to innocent third parties. Persons thinking about doing church security should become familiar with their state’s use of force laws. Their rights to detain, arrest, or even touch another person while performing church security is no greater than that of any other citizen. It is vitally important that persons performing church security understand that their actions have the potential of making them the target of an expensive lawsuit and perhaps even subject them to criminal prosecution.
For those interested in developing a church security team, serious thought should be given to the following:
- There are no restrictions to entering adjoining parking lots, and the entrances into church facilities entrances are often unmanned, or manned by persons lacking the skills needed to identify and/or deal with possibly violent persons.
- Visitors unknown to members of the congregation and church staff are able to move freely about much of the facility.
- It is usually not difficult at certain times to set fires or hide improvised explosive devices in critical areas, possibly unobserved.
- Even if greeters and staff are trained to observe and report unusual persons or the presence of unusual objects, delays in getting that information to the proper persons may occur without a reliable communication system.
- The children’s area is vulnerable to predators and attempted kidnappings by non-custodial parents during times of domestic conflict.
- Members and visitors in the church parking lots can be robbed, and cars are often burglarized.
I recommend the following for churches interested in protecting staff and members:
- Designate a qualified person as the security director who will be responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive security and emergency response plan. The plan should not be so simple that team members may not know what to do when faced with a possible or actual threat, or so lengthy and complex that team members can’t understand or remember it.
- Select and train a protective team and instruct staff and greeters how to be additional eyes and ears. Employ an effective means of communication within the protective team and key staff and greeters (inexpensive 2-way radios may work for smaller churches).
- Run background checks on and interview potential protective team members and other key personnel.
- Develop a means of controlling access to entrances and exits, and consider the use of electronic monitoring equipment for larger facilities. This would allow a single person to watch the entrances, children’s areas, and other areas of concern.
- Remember that a large percentage of church violence occurs in church parking lots.
- Watch for persons acting suspiciously or wearing unusually bulky clothes, unattended briefcases, backpacks, boxes, suspicious vehicles near areas where occasional crowding is a normal occurrence, and unexpected appearance of delivery or maintenance vehicles.
- Each member of the security team should be assigned a post before the service, during the service, between services, and after services. Recommended posts at a minimum are sanctuary, greeting area, children’s area, and parking lot.
- Even if the church is not big enough for a team and it is just one person, if that one person does his or her job properly then that particular house of worship is significantly safer.
Dealing with an active shooter is vastly different than practicing live fire shooting. A single miss by a team member has huge consequences. A 9mm handgun fired from a horizontal position can travel around 100 yards before it first hits the ground, and even then it may travel for some distance. Modern handgun bullets easily penetrate sheetrock walls. Each member of the team should expect absolute chaos in an active shooter situation. A responding team member may have to literally fight his or her way through a human stampede in order to accost the shooter at a distance where precision hits can be made, which may be as close as a few yards. Proper active shooter response should be learned under the guidance of qualified instructors, followed by frequent practice. However, the team is probably more likely to respond to situations where firearms are not the correct solution, but de-escalation and reasonable unarmed self-defense skills are.
All of us should believe that the lives and good health of the church family should be protected against those who wished them harm. If you are one of the few that is willing to take on the responsibility, accountability, and perhaps even liability of being one of those protectors, then by all means get the training, maintain those skills, and then be in place the day that evil first steps onto the church grounds.
Steve is a long-time defensive weapons and instructor based out of Texas who has trained hundreds of men and women of all ages for more than two decades on how to better prepare to defend themselves and their loved ones. Steve has completed over 80 private-sector and law enforcement-only defensive weapons and tactics classes, and has trained civilian and law-enforcement officers in six states. Moses is a reserve deputy, former member of a multi-precinct Special Response Team, competitive shooter, and martial artist. Steve has written numerous articles for SWAT Magazine and other publications. Steve is a licensed Texas Level 4 Personal Security Officer and Instructor who was Shift Lead on a mega-church security detail for seven years, and has provided close protection for several former foreign Heads of State. He is currently an instructor at Relson Gracie Jiu Jitsu/Krav Maga in Tyler, Texas and Director of Training for Palisade Training Group (www.ptgtrainingllc.com).