The recent shootings at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, which left 26 dead and several others injured, have once again focused attention on church safety, with many church leaders asking what steps they should implement to protect their congregations. Most churches in America are safe places. While incidents of shootings on church property are shocking, they are rare. But "open access" policies of most churches make them susceptible to violent acts. While such acts cannot be completely prevented, there are steps that church leaders can take to reduce the risk. Let’s review some of them.
Four possible options
Here are four possible response options that leaders of churches of all sizes and settings should consider:
1.Off-duty officers. The optimal response to the threat of an armed assailant on church property is to have two or more uniformed off-duty law enforcement officers on site during services, with a police car parked in a highly visible location outside the church. Such persons should be thoroughly screened before being hired, receive extensive training in dealing with volatile situations and the use of firearms, and receive continuing training in the use of firearms and job-related skills. They will serve as a deterrent to crime because of their uniform and vehicle. Further, according to some courts, these individuals become on-duty police officers, even while otherwise acting as private security guards, when responding to criminal activity, which can reduce a church’s liability based on negligence for their actions. Churches considering the use of uniformed off-duty police officers should check with the local police department regarding the recruitment of such persons as security guards, and the number that are needed. There is a cost involved with using police officers to provide security, but those costs are diminished by the fact that you will not be using them for more than a few hours per week.
2.Private security. Churches also may consider hiring uniformed private security guards. This is a far-less effective response than using uniformed law enforcement officers, since private security guards typically have less training in both firearms and crisis response. Further, unlike law enforcement personnel, they do not become “on duty” when responding to a crime, and so the church faces a higher risk of being liable for their negligent response. And, the cost of hiring private security guards often will be comparable to using police officers.
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