This article reminded me of something that once happened to me and how we are constantly saying “secure your doors”.
A month before the Charleston Church shooting I had been asked to do some church safety training at an African-American church in St. Petersburg. Monica Lamar who does firearms training out at the Allstate Center in St. Petersburg asked if I would come out and help her with her safety team. We set a date in August of course not knowing about what was about to happen. Then on the evening of June 17, 2015 evil walked into the in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and murdered nine innocent people. This event woke up churches across the country that we were not safe anymore and we needed to start working on ways to protect the flock.
A week before the August training I had some time before I had to be at work, so I decided to do a walkthrough of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church (FMBC), Monica’s church. I was working for the Town of Belleair and as their detective my uniform of the day was dress slacks and dress shirt with my weapon and badge showing on my belt. Detectives in Florida don’t normally cover up their guns. I arrived at FMBC and walked up to the front door. Next to the door there was a sign, “Ring Bell for Entrance”. Before I rang the bell I pull on the door handle and not to my surprise the door was unlocked. I walked into the vestibule unannounced and headed toward the worship center. Just a little side note, FMBC worship center took my breath away, if you want to see what a worship center should look like go there.
As I stood there in awe and thanking God that He had set this up I heard a voice behind me asking if he could help me. I turned around and met the facility manager Oscar Davenport for the first time. I could see in Oscar’s face a little concern; I am sure he was thinking who is the unannounced guy in the church with a gun? Remember, Charleston had just happened and here in an all African-American church stands a white guy with a gun. In my mind I thought Oscar, you are one of the bravest men I have ever met. Oscar had not yet seen my badge because he had walked up on my backside, but he still approached me and asked if he could help me. Seeing his expression I quickly identified myself and as soon as I mentioned my name and Trinity Security Allies a relief and a big friendly grin came to his face. He told me he was aware of the training and was looking forward to it. He welcomed me to walk around the church and if there was anything I needed just let him know.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard pastors tell me how they love to come into the office early to study, pray or just have that quiet time before their hectic day begins when all of the sudden they realize they are not alone and when they turn around they find a distraught husband or a homeless person that has gotten into their office unannounced. They tell me that after the initial shock they think, “why didn’t I lock the front door”? And I always respond, “why didn’t you?”.
Now we want the church to be an open and welcoming place, but we need to remember that when it is not hours of operation, it needs to be locked down. The only people that seem to be upset over this are those that either don’t understand the concept of security and leave their car doors unlocked during the night or don’t understand that there are people out there that would like to do nothing better than to rob, cut or hurt someone inside the church (remember the story we started out with?).
Our own church had a suspect, that was running from the Pasco Deputies, hit an unlocked back door and run through the church trying to escape law enforcement. No telling what might have happened if he grabbed and took a person hostage in the church like the guy did in the article. If you are not open for service all doors must be locked. Staff all have keys to get around the church, but I will say this again, all doors must be locked while the church is not open.
But you ask, when do we leave the doors unlocked, and my response is never unless you have a Greeter or church member at the door. We need to look at everyone that comes into the church, we need to be looking at the members, guest, those that are hurting and for those that might come into your church to cause harm. In “Threat Profiling” we teach you what to look for before it gets to your door. If your Greeters go into service after church starts then a Safety Team Member must be aware of the door and watch for any possible threats. We also recommend someone out in the parking lot watching for those running late that might be a threat.
If you want to make your church as open as possible then place someone at the door at all times, even during the service. If they can’t be there then your Safety Team has to be in a position to watch all doors until that person can get back to their post. If the door is not a main entrance on hours of operation it needs to be locked, all members of the church need to come in and out of specific doors and all others locked. Understand what makes a church open and friendly is not the doors, it is the people inside the church.
One more thing about my walk through at FMBC. As I walked through the administrative area I was stopped by two ladies that worked there. One asked me how I got in and I told her the door was unlocked. Both ladies started pointing the finger at each other about who’s day it was to lock the door. Make it everyone’s responsibility to lock the doors when church is not officially open. I quickly left the building before I got in trouble for not ringing the doorbell.
On Saturday November 4, 2017, I stood in front of a small church of about 100 members doing our “Why you need church security?” presentation. I remember warning them that domestic violence was one of the biggest threats to our churches and we, as a church, need to pay more attention to the needs of those going through this terrible situation. I went on to explain that I feared that the next major church shooting would have domestic violence as the catalyst behind the incident. On Sunday November 5, 2017, I was having lunch with Wendy at one of our favorite restaurants when I started to get text messages from my Church Safety Networking Group that a church shooting had just happened in Sutherland Springs, Texas and there were multiple casualties. I turned on the news and started seeing the reports, I had that sinking feeling that it had to be domestic in nature. That many causalities also meant it was someone that they knew and there had to be warning signs. As the reports started to come out about the 26 victims and that the shooter was the ex-son-in-law of one of the members in the church. The shooter had been sending the ex-mother-in-law threatening text messages. She was not there, but her mother was and was one of the casualties that day.
Everyday we receive an email from Google called a Google Alert. These alerts are searches Google does for us on crimes against the churches across the world. Last week I came across an article “Alabama Man Tackled After Allegedly Pulling Gun in Church”. Reading the Alabama article, I saw that on July 8th, 2017 a man was arrested at the church for threatening to shoot his wife and possibly her father. The soon to be ex-husband interrupted the church service by walking up the front of the church and talked about his upcoming divorce with his wife then attempted to pull his weapon when members of the church jumped into action and tackled the would-be shooter. There are so many things that come to my mind when I read stories like this, so I just want to share some of my thoughts on how issues like this should not get this far.
I was doing a training session with a church on “Verbal De-Escalation” and one of the members of the church made a statement that took me by surprise. He stated that members of any church may have to work with someone who is troubled from “cradle to grave”. I had never looked at the Christian responsibility when working with a hurting subject but, yes he was correct. If we believe that God is in control and He guides us to where He needs us then God puts you in front that person who is hurting and needs help. Trust me, most of us don’t put ourselves in those positions, He does. Once a person is put in front of us by God, we can’t just walk away. Now I am not saying you have to adopt this person, but you should do as much as you possibly can. As a church we need to reach out to the members of our churches and talk about domestic issues. In law enforcement one of the calls we hated the most were domestic disturbances. You never win in those calls. First there is the stress you have going to these calls not knowing what you are going to be walking into when you get there. I can remember going to an apartment one Christmas to find the husband upset because he had not gotten what he had asked for. He had destroyed the apartment. Getting there and seeing the wife was beat up and when we went to arrest the husband the wife jumped on us because we were getting ready to arrest the “bread winner” of the family. The 2017 End of Year Officer Fatalities Report states “The leading circumstance of firearms-related fatalities were officers responding to domestic disturbances and conducting traffic stops.” I have never talked to one officer that looked forward to going on a domestic disturbance call.
The church of today has to take a more pro-active role in working with those that advise the church of domestic issues. The church must make this a priority in their outreach. In any situation where we see “hurts, habits or hang-ups”, we, the church needs to gather information of the situation to decide first how we can help and second, if these issues in any way that could be a threat to the church. We as the church safety team must stress that any information about a pending divorce needs to be relayed to the safety team. Once again, this is not gossip, this is just intelligence information that may need to be passed on to the team to keep a watchful eye on all involved especially if physical violence has occurred in the past. Also, be careful about a spouse telling you that their ex will not hurt a fly. Those are the ones we read about where everyone is shaking their head, not understanding how this could have gotten so far out of hand. No one and I mean no one understands what is floating around in some one’s mind after a terrible divorce.
Christ was asked what is the greatest commandment? 28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31. If we as Christians believe this then we have a responsibility to make sure we do everything we can to help those that Christ puts in front of us. As the member stated from “cradle to grave”.
Jim has many years of law enforcement experience and has run the safety team at his church for several years. TSA was formed after he realized God's calling when multiple churches reached out and asked him to present at their church.