Standing room only at church security event

Sheriff Eric Watson: ‘It can happen here’

By ALLEN MINCEY
Posted 11/17/17

The growing number of violent tragedies in houses of worship is as staggering as memories of the attacks are frightening.May 21, 2006: Five dead from church shooting near Baton Rouge, La..Oct. 25, …

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Standing room only at church security event

Sheriff Eric Watson: ‘It can happen here’

Posted

The growing number of violent tragedies in houses of worship is as staggering as memories of the attacks are frightening.

May 21, 2006: Five dead from church shooting near Baton Rouge, La..

Oct. 25, 2012: One dead in church shooting in College Park, Ga.

June 18, 2015: Several dead in church shooting in Charleston, S.C.

Sept. 24, 2017: One dead in church shooting in Antioch, Tenn.

And, Nov. 5, 2017: Twenty-six killed in a church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Each had one thing in common. They occurred in a house of worship where no one expected them to happen.

"Our churches are sites where people can worship the Lord, not fear for their lives," said Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson. However, as the number of incidents increases, so too does fear from church members, mainly because the shootings often have no reason for occurring, or innocent bystanders are caught in the gunfire and die.

The BCSO has had a church security plan in place for over three years, and has met with several pastors during that time. Now, though, the BCSO and other law enforcement agencies across the nation are promoting safety measures for all churches, large or small.

"We should all be concerned, because sometimes people get mad and you don't know what they may do," Watson told a standing-room only group at the Bradley County Justice Complex Thursday evening. So many attended the meeting that some either had to be turned away, or left on their own.

"We have great churches in our community," Watson said, "and many have security measures already in place, but some don't, and those that do might want to look closely at specifics within their plans."

That includes having church members with law enforcement experience, making sure doors and windows are locked when not in use, and having greeters at the entrances who may notice strange behavior of visitors. He recommended putting together a church planning and oversight committee to include pastoral staff, first responders, lawyers, counselors and doctors who could help develop safety and security plans.

Major components of these plans include setting up a crisis intervention stress management strategy, and establishing an evacuation and lockdown procedure. The plans need to be offered to local law enforcement agencies and organizations such as fire and rescue, and ambulance service, so they can be prepared for response.

Watson said many incidents in churches come from those with serious mental health issues, so having someone in place to not only notice unusual behavior, but be able to talk to anyone with such issues, is very important.

"The sheriff's office is available to help with setting up security at these churches, and you may see patrol cars parked in church lots on Sunday mornings serving as deterrents to those seeking to cause problems," Watson said.

District Attorney General Steve Crump, who also attended Thursday night's presentation, added that his office is available to discuss church security with anyone wishing advice.

"We hope these instances never happen, but they do," he said. "We have to remember that we serve a God who is greater than anyone."

At times, the presentation mirrored a church service, with many "amens" and references to the Bible being brought in. Watson referenced the Old Testament story of Nehemiah, who said hold a tool in one hand, and a sword in the other.

"As Christians, we have got to depend on everyone to protect our churches," the sheriff said. "And we have to realize that what happened at these other churches can happen here, and be prepared."

Watson said BCSO is coordinating with others to offer classes in firearms safety, personal protection and team planning.

"Not too long ago, a place of worship was considered a safe haven — a place to pray and receive the word of the Lord," the sheriff noted. "Today, however, crime and violence have become far too prevalent and continue to breach the doors of our places of worship.

"We must be prepared, and if we can help, call us at the sheriff's office. We can help with  background checks and go through the church and actually help develop security measures that will help make those attending feel safe and concentrate on why they are there," Watson added.

 Because of the immense number of people who were not able to attend because of limited seating, the BCSO will host an additional opportunity to attend the same training class next Tuesday, Nov. 21. at 6:30 p.m. in the agency's North Training Room, located at 2290 Blythe Ave. 

“Our agency’s seminar had an incredible response and filled up very quickly," Watson said following Thursday night's presentation. "We always hate to turn people away for classes, but in some cases, our space is limited. As a result, a special second seminar will be held for those who were not able to take part.” 

For more information on the second presentation, contact the Bradley County Sheriff's Office or visit the BCSO website or Facebook page.

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