Churches told ' prepare for anything '
Experts urge development of security teams.
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.”
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