Churches told ' pre­pare for any­thing '

Ex­perts urge de­vel­op­ment of se­cu­rity teams.

Dayton Daily News - - LOCAL & STATE - By Chris Ste­wart Staff Writer

A place where peo­ple nor­mally seek peace and refuge has again be­come the scene of Amer­ica’s most re­cent mass shoot­ing.

The deaths of 26 peo­ple Sun­day at a Texas church — fol­low­ing the 2015 killing of nine in a Charleston, S.C. prayer group — re­veals why some churches have taken ag­gres­sive steps to keep wor­shipers safe — even putting guns in the hands of con­gre­gants.

Pa­trick Oliver, di­rec­tor of the Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Pro­gram Cedarville Univer­sity, said armed church se­cu­rity teams were prac­ti­cally un­heard of 10 years ago. But that’s all changed in the past five years as mass shoot­ings be­come more fre­quent.

“I would not say ev­ery church in Amer­ica could have a church se­cu­rity team. But I would say ev­ery church in Amer­ica should think about whether they want to de­velop a se­cu­rity team,” said Oliver, also an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor. “And even if they don’t have a se­cu­rity team, they need to be think­ing about some ba­sic se­cu­rity poli­cies and strate­gies.”

A num­ber of area churches have se­cu­rity teams. Some formed years ago to pa­trol park­ing lots to pre­vent thefts, but mem­bers have seen their du­ties and train­ing evolve to de­tect far das­tardly threats.

Mem­bers of the se­cu­rity team at First Chris­tian Church, a 2,200-mem­ber mega church in Spring­field, are li­censed to carry con­cealed weapons, Paul Sla­gle, the church’s di­rec­tor of ad­min­is­tra­tion, said last year af­ter an in­ci­dent at a Ket­ter­ing church.

“To me that is a de­ter­rent,” Sla­gle said.

Armed se­cu­rity guards rou­tinely pa­trol the grounds and stand watch in­side Phillips Tem­ple in Trot­wood dur­ing ser­vices and events, the Rev. James Wash­ing­ton told this news­pa­per pre­vi­ously.

An en­tire se­cu­rity team as well as many mem­bers and pos­si­bly the pas­tor him­self is armed at the Solid Rock Church in Mon­roe.

“We prob­a­bly have more peo­ple in our church who carry than don’t carry,” the Rev. Lawrence Bishop II, Solid Rock’s co-pas­tor, said this week. “I may or may not.”

Ohio’s con­cealed-carry law gen­er­ally bans guns in churches but al­lows firearms in­side with a pas­tor or re­li­gious leader’s per­mis­sion.

Places of wor­ship are not pow­er­less to help pre­vent a de­ter­mined at­tacker, said Mark Stusek, pres­i­dent of G2G So­lu­tions, a firm that helps iden­tify se­cu­rity vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties for churches and schools.

“We en­cour­age them to use ev­ery kind of preven­tion tech­nique avail­able,” he said. “That might in­volve the train­ing of peo­ple to make them aware of what looks to be sus­pi­cious crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity.”

The Mid­dle­town Po­lice Depart­ment will meet with lo­cal churches this week to dis­cuss pos­si­ble plans and strate­gies, said Po­lice Chief Rod­ney Muterspaw. Some ru­ral ar­eas in But­ler County are not un­like the Suther­land Springs, the small Texas town where “ev­ery­body knows ev­ery­body,” he said.

“Liv­ing proof this can hap­pen any­where, any­time,” Muterspaw said. “You got to be pre­pared for any­thing. This will af­fect this town for­ever.” Rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive hard­ware like cam­eras and panic alarms can dis­cour­age an at­tack, said Stusek, a re­tired Day­ton po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tor. But the best de­fense is a se­cu­rity pres­ence of a num­ber of trained “eyes and ears” both out­side and in­side the build­ing, in­clud­ing those with spe­cial­ized firearm train­ing, he said.

“That starts with peo­ple by the doors and on the side­walk,” Stusek said. “Then it works its way in to the peo­ple who are greet­ing and the ush­ers. It’s rec­og­niz­ing if some­thing does not ap­pear to be cor­rect that you have them trained on how to re­spond to that and re­port it im­me­di­ately.”

Oliver said an or­ga­ni­za­tional lead­ers need to care­fully weigh the eth­i­cal, moral and le­gal im­pli­ca­tions of for­mal se­cu­rity teams.

“That means you need to be con­cerned about who is on a church se­cu­rity team,” he said. “You need to have qual­i­fi­ca­tions for a church se­cu­rity team. You need to do train­ing for a church se­cu­rity team. You need to have poli­cies and pro­ce­dures.”

To his knowl­edge, Stusek said none of his church cli- ents have had to re­spond to a firearms threat but wor­ries it’s only a mat­ter of time.

“I won­der, to be hon­est, when that day’s go­ing to come,” Stusek said. “But if we’ve done our job well ... they know they are go­ing to be chal­lenged.”

NICK WAG­NER / AUSTIN AMER­I­CAN-STATESMAN

A man walks past the First Bap­tist Church where a gun­man opened fire on a Sun­day ser­vice and killed at least 26 peo­ple in Suther­land Springs, Texas.

Mark Stusek, pres­i­dent of G2G So­lu­tions

Pa­trick Oliver, Cedarville Univer­sity as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor

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