I was online last night with the Church Safety Guys, James McGarvey and Paul Buckner and somewhere in the conversation the Vulcan hand sign for “Live long and prosper” came up and I thought maybe Star Trek had it right in several different things. Let’s look at the handshake. The History Channel says the handshake has been around in some form or fashion for over a thousand years “The handshake has existed in some form or another for thousands of years, but its origins are somewhat murky. One popular theory is that the gesture began as a way of conveying peaceful intentions. By extending their empty right hands, strangers could show that they were not holding weapons and bore no ill will toward one another. Some even suggest that the up-and-down motion of the handshake was supposed to dislodge any knives or daggers that might be hidden up a sleeve. Yet another explanation is that the handshake was a symbol of good faith when making an oath or promise. When they clasped hands, people showed that their word was a sacred bond.”
So maybe the Vulcans had it right. They didn’t do handshakes, they just held their hand up with a big V in the middle of the hand, two fingers together on both sides of the V and gave an encouraging statement “Live long and prosper”. So maybe we should take something from a science fiction show and make it our new way of greeting each other. I like “Live long and prosper” or we could use the way the Episcopal Church does it, “Peace be with you” followed with a return from the person receiving the peace with “And also with you”. I heard Trump the other day say we could use the way the Japanese greet by just nodding their heads toward each other. I am not one for nodding toward each other, of course, I was not a huge fan of handshaking either. So many reasons, like alpha males wanting to show off their strength by squeezing your hand too hard, or the lip wrist handshake. It’s like they are only doing it because of proper protocol but really don’t want to shake your hand; it is just a formality. Then there is the how long do you hold someone’s hand. After a few uncomfortable seconds and I take back my hand from that person's grip, I don’t want to shake their hand ever again. Not to mention how we as police officers don’t like to shake hands because we are too close to that suspicious person. So, from now on, let’s just do away with handshakes and we can take a poll later on what we should do now, Vulcan, nod or “peace be with you”.
Since we are on the subject of Star Trek let me bring up one of my other favorite sayings. Kirk one time when asked about how he handled the Kobayashi Maru test stated, “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario”. I don’t either and neither should any Christian. When I was with the police department, I had this attitude there were no no-win scenarios. Call it arrogance, ego or just hard-headedness and at the time I was not a Christ follower. I believed we controlled our own destiny. When I came back to Christ, I understood how wrong that was; God is in control and I fought with myself over my arrogance. Then I realized that with God there are no no-win scenarios. Even in this time of chaos, God is in control and really, He doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios either. If He did, He wouldn’t have given us these powerful scriptures. Matthew 19:26 “Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Luke 1:37 “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me”. So, to me, God is the champion of the no no-win scenarios and we as Christians need to wake up and get a move on finding out what God has planned for us during this pandemic. He has never stated He wanted us to sit on the sideline and just watch the world go by. In John 17:18-19 it is quite clear Christ sends us into the world, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified”. He wants us in the trenches, just not down in the mud, so as Christian let us make sure we are available if He calls us. Find something to do and start practicing that no no-win scenario mindset. I don’t think you understand if Armageddon is tomorrow, We Win. We get to go home to a place a million times better than this place. So, get up and do something. Just remember the recommended social distancing and washing your hands. It doesn’t have to be something out of your house, call or Zoom with your safety teams or members of the church that have been hit the hardest. Be that Light of the Lord.
Okay, one last Star Trek reference. In Star Trek II, Kirk has destroyed Khan and Khan kicks off the Genesis and Spock crawls into the reactor compartment and is bombarded with antimatter radiation, Kirk comes into the engine room and Kirk and Spock have one last conversation.
Spock: “The ship…out of danger?”
Spock: “Do not grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many, outweigh…..”
Kirk: “The needs of the few.”
Spock: “Or the one.”
And Trekkies around the world cried even though I knew there would be another Star Trek and Spock would be back, sorry back to my blog.
For Christians Spock’s logic is flawed. Christians care for all and will do anything for even the one. Christ set the example in Luke 15:3-6 in His parable of the one lost sheep. We will go to great length for that one, the one that God has laid on our hearts, the one that He is constantly whispering to us to look after, the one that for the rest of our lives we will be praying for. We are built of a multiple of ones so we, as the church, must always be looking out for “the one”.
What does this mean? When the President and the Governor came out and asked us not to hold meetings with 100 or more people, they did it not only for the masses but for the one. Our elderly and our friends with pre-existing conditions. Yes, when you add up all of those ones you get the masses, but it starts with one. So, when churches go ahead and have their services who are they doing it for? Sorry, I don’t see it for the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. I see it as foolishness and arrogance. Proverbs 3:35 “The wise inherit honor, but fools get only shame.” Yes, we trust God and we know He is in control, but He will never tell you to go out and play in traffic or swim with the alligators at dawn (this is something Florida residents will understand).
So when I read about a pastor in Tampa being arrested for violating social distancing guidelines given to us by the President, Governor of Florida, the CDC and local authorities I have to ask myself his motives. I know that some of you will claim it is our right to assemble; yes it is, but I have a problem when it endangers lives. Isn’t our responsibility as the watchmen/watchwoman on the wall to warn the churches about dangers that can harm those that come to worship? If your church decided to have a Sunday service with these warnings still in place with over 10 people, isn’t that being just a little arrogant and not prudent? Shouldn’t you as the Safety Team Leader be advising your pastoral staff this might not be a great idea? Tell them they may end up reading headlines like this “Special Report: Five days of worship that set a virus time bomb in France”. All because you didn’t heed the warnings of a real, not fake, not made up but a real threat.
On February 18th, 2020 Christian Open Door church had people from France, Germany and Switzerland come to worship at an annual event. Since the event, they have traced over 2,500 coronavirus cases back to this incident. The church claims they didn’t know the seriousness of the virus during this time. One member stated they knew nothing about the virus or the epidemic. A lot of us didn’t understand the magnitude of this disease when it first came out. People who attended the services have been accused of being the cause of spread, members of the congregation have been verbally attacked by strangers for the spreading of the COVID-19. Germany partially closed its borders with France, halting an open border agreement that had been around for 25 years.
So if this church in Tampa is listed as the epicenter in the coming weeks of an outbreak of the coronavirus in the area, do you think God or those that have followed the warnings of doctors and scientists who understand the seriousness of COVID-19 would be happy with this pastor’s decision? I think not. Proverbs 10:23 “A fool finds pleasure in wicked schemes, but a person of understanding delights in wisdom.” Proverbs 18:2 “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” Get my point? We will get through this if we listen to the experts and work together and not against each other.
So, at the beginning of last week, being the optimistic person that I am, I told a friend of mine that by Easter this pandemic would be behind most of us. Those areas not hard hit by the virus would be able to return to a somewhat normal life. I just knew we would be in our churches by Easter. Then over the weekend the President and all his advisers came out and gave us the bad news of maybe not releasing the restrictions until the end of April. I had a moment of anxiety. Mr. President, don’t you know that April the 12th is Easter? The most cherished celebration of any Christian, our Lord and Savor defeating death and giving us everlasting life. What are we going to do? And in that moment, I heard His voice, …“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10. Thinking about it for a moment I felt the peace I was looking for Him and His voice telling me every day is Easter, and when the restrictions are lifted there will be a great celebration at churches around the world.
Brothers and sisters, celebrate. God wants us to celebrate when we defeat this virus. Moses said it best in Exodus 10:9 Moses answered, “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the LORD.” There will be a festival of our Lord when this is over, the nations will hear our songs and our praise when this has come to past. Until that time, let us join in very small groups, use the technology we have been blessed with for our on-line sermons, our small groups and pray out loud for what we have. We are blessed in this nation and let us remember that God is in control, He loves us dearly and even in the end, there are no no-win scenarios because we all know where we are going, and WE WIN.
We just finished our 1st quarter Church Safety Networking Group (CSNG) meetings. These meetings are to network churches and share information of issues and concerns they are having at their houses of worship. This quarter’s training included an after-action critique of the West Freeway Church of Christ shooting. The common narrative has been that the shooting was a “mass shooting” incident. In my professional opinion the West Freeway COC shooting was an armed robbery gone bad. Call me if you want to discuss my opinion. I explained to the CSNG’s members that we are going to start a different style of training on Active Shooter preparedness. We will analyze shootings that have happened across the United States, review studies related to how these shootings occurred and work on proactive prevention strategies instead of reacting to the incident without proper preparation. We will train for Before the incident preparation, During the incident response procedures and what should happen After an active shooter incident occurs.
I don’t think people who have never been involved in a shooting incident understand the real emotional devastation that happens after an active shooting. As someone who has lived through a similar incident, I truly felt and witnessed the effects on my family and friends after my dad walked out of the church and killed a beloved deacon of the church. The victim’s family and my family and friends were all devastated and crushed by this disturbing act of hate and violence. It took me a long time to recover. Still today, because of the past relationship with my father and my mother, I have moments of insecurity that only God, my wife and family, my Christian brothers and sisters have been able to help me to overcome.
I received a call from my sister who still lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth area about the West Freeway COC shooting incident. She explained that Tony Wallace, the deacon who was shot during the shooting was a nurse who worked with her. She went on to tell me that he was a great guy and a beacon of light when he was at work. They were all shocked and devastated when they heard the news about Tony. The tragedy of these shootings goes far beyond the boundaries of the church alone. These incidents affect the entire community and reach beyond our communities to us all. For all of these reasons, we must start evaluating how we handle the incidents that face today’s churches and develop strategies to effectively prepare for surviving them.
Recently I was driving my daughter, Jessica, back to school. We started talking about the topic of our next Facebook live broadcast and I told her about our new training on Active Shooter Preparedness. I explained that I believed we should a different approach to the training. Our training during the CSNG meetings will be more focused on preparedness Before, proper response During and healing After a shooting event. She asked me this question; “do these churches do Risk Management or Risk Analysis”. At first I scoffed. Here she is, this college student, and she is hitting me with big words like Risk Management and Risk Analysis. Then she dazzled me with the 5 Phase Emergency Management (EM) model and I thought she was talking about some new rock group she was listening to on Spotify. Yet, the more she talked about Prevention, Preparedness, Response, Recovery and Mitigation, the more I realized if you take away the complicated language she had a good topic for not only our Facebook live but also this month’s blog.
This is the way Jessica explained the Emergency Management Model. In the state of Florida from June to the end of November we would focus on hurricanes more than we would tornadoes. We need to plan for both, but every hurricane season statistics show we have a better chance of getting hit by a hurricane than a tornado. In the Midwest they would just reverse the order because they will probably never see a hurricane unless they plan a trip to Florida during that time of year. So, if we take that approach to the church safety team training, what should we be looking as our primary focus? After we identify our most likely risk exposure, we make our way down the list of potential threats in order of their probability of occurrence. Do we too often focus on things that probably will never happen at our church instead of focusing on the inevitable?
When I go to a church for the first time to do an assessment, the first place I ask the church to take me to is the children’s ministry. I walk through and look for locks on the classroom doors. I cannot tell you how many churches don’t have proper locks on the doors of the areas where, their most precious possessions, our children are located. However, when I ask them to take me to where their audio/video equipment is held the doors are so secure that it would make Fort Knox proud. When this occurs, I look at the person giving me the tour and tell them, they can replace all the a/v equipment with insurance monies, but we cannot replace the precious little ones that God has trusted to our protection. We should consider our Children’s Ministry as our primary risk potential as we develop our Emergency Management Plan.
Many church leaders who contact us in the beginning stages of starting a Safety Team will tell me right off the bat that they are more likely to be struck by lightning than have an active shooter in their church. They often follow up with, “don’t come into their church and talk about arming everyone with a sidearm and teach them how to clear rooms”. I agree with them and tell them we need to sit down and talk about what they see as possible threats and how to prevent those incidents from happening to their church. We conduct a risk analysis, or as I say, strength and weaknesses analysis to identify potential risks for incidents that happen most frequently at churches, rather than those that might not ever happen, like an active shooter. So finally, if you ask me what steps I would take first to manage risks at your church, it would be conduct a risk analysis and implement a risk management plan. But with any plan it needs to be adaptable. Talking to Simon Osamoh and James McGarvey with Church Safety and Security, we discussed the necessity for flexibility with our planning because when different incidents occur, our training priorities and focus could change.
If we consider what seems to be one of the most significant issues with churches today it would be vandalism. In our daily Google Alerts, we have at least one or two churches that have been affected by vandals and it seems to be increasing in frequency. I had one safety team leader say that you can’t stop vandalism. Yes, maybe that is true, we can’t stop them, but we can do our due diligence to make it harder for those who do these terrible deeds. Have your local law enforcement come out and do a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) assessment. If they don’t know what that is, you can look it up on the internet. I found one done by Virginia Beach, VA which is 34 pages long. That isn’t a lot of reading and it will help you understand that by taking the four CPTED elements you can do a lot to reduce vandalisms against your church. This measure is a critical part of Prevention strategy. Let’s try to get ahead of it before it becomes a larger issue.
In my personal and professional opinion, I would also be looking at the human interaction of your safety team. Huh, you ask? I hear examples over and over again in our training sessions. Inappropriately handled human interaction between an untrained safety team member and another person can be one of the greatest risks a church faces today. We know that there are three types of people that come into our church. Those who come to worship and we recognize them as they walk through the door. We have those that come into our church that are hurting and one step away from doing something they will regret for the rest of their lives. They are looking for an answer and our praying they may find answers in our churches. The third, of course, is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Our Threat Profiling training teaches you how to recognize the last two, but now that you recognize the difference between those that are hurting and the wolves what are you doing? What human interaction skills are you developing to deal with those two types?
In our training I show a video of a young male interrupting a church service. Before the video I ask the students if this church has a safety team. As the video starts two males are outside the church talking about making history. One of the males enters into the church while the other films the disturbance on his phone. You will have to come to one of my training sessions and find out what happens next. In the video, even though it does not look like the church has a safety team, every able male and one tough female stop the intruder before he can get to the front of the church and then they herded him out. In my opinion, except for letting the intruder get too far into the church before he is stopped, they did everything right. When I show this video I ask the trainees what would they have done different, I often get responses like “I would have piled driven that clown into the floor” or “I would have placed a choke hold on him”. No, sorry, not a part of the solution. Think about it, the accomplice was video-recording the whole encounter. The video made its way to YouTube. Think about what would have happened if the press got a hold a video of one of your safety team members pile driving a kid whose only crime was disrupting your church service which is a misdemeanor here in the State of Florida.
I was trained using the Behavioral Change Stairway Model in Crisis Negotiation. I use this technique in our Verbal De-escalation Training Program. The second step after Active Listening is Empathy. We may not see or understand the person’s conflict, but to them it is very real. In any crisis negotiation we have to understand that to get a person from crisis mode to where we can help them, we must treat their crisis as a valid issue. While doing this training I used the example of a person that just lost a loved one. They didn’t know how they would be able to continue on with life and were thinking of suicide. On multiple occasions I have had safety team members tell me that we need to explain to these people that if their loved one is a Christian they will see them again, as if that should solve the problem. No, sorry once again, not part of the solution in these situations. I can see the Facebook or Google Review of your church now. “I went to the church looking for comfort because my mother just passed away some person there told me to get over it because I would one day see them in Heaven.” One star and no “I would not recommend this church”.
Okay, before we go any further we need to address another very real concern as well. There may come a time when you have to put your hands on someone to remove them from the church. There may even be a time when you have to take someone’s life because they threaten those in your congregation. That is not your fault. People sometimes place us in situations that require forceful solutions. If your heart is in the right place for this ministry and you are good with God, He will not put you into a situation that He has not trained you for. When that time comes you will know it. Consider the example of Julie Workman, a survivor of the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shooting. After evil came into their church and killed 26 people and injured 20 others, two of them her sons, Julie, a registered nurse, jumped up after the madman left the church and started doing triage, saving several people who would have died before first responders could get there. She told me while all this was going on, she kept hearing a voice telling her this was what she had been trained for all her life. God directed her there that day and God put her to work.
So, if I were to identify the most significant risk to our churches, I would say lack of specific training relevant to what those serving the church are going to confront someday, whether it is on the safety team or other positions in the church.
Our main focus should be on the expansion of the Kingdom of God. If that is not the foundation your safety team is built upon you should reconsider your direction. Safety Team Leaders and church leadership need to do a risk analysis on your safety team, making sure everyone is on the same page as it relates to how to deal with the people that are visiting your church. When someone walks into our church hurting, upset, dealing with domestic issues or just having a bad day, our job is to be there for those that are in need of some good old Christian fellowship, prayer or maybe even a hug (all you macho safety team men just hang with me)? After making sure we have developed a well-trained team let’s not forget other possible risks that will come into our church, i.e., domestic issues, lost children, medical emergencies, self-proclaimed profits, disruptive attendees and of course active shooter and develop a 5 Phase EM. Thank you Jessica.
On December 29, 2019, a madman shot and killed two innocent people inside West Freeway Church of Christ before he was shot and killed by Jack Wilson, an NRA instructor and former reserve deputy sheriff. This all took place in a little over 6 seconds. Soon after the shooting, Democratic Presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg stated “It’s the job of law enforcement to have guns and to decide when to shoot. You just do not want the average citizen carrying a gun in a crowded place.” I am not sure what planet Mr. Bloomberg lives on but unfortunately, he is wrong. We would all love to have our own personal bodyguards like Mr. Bloomberg has, but according to The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) report  that came out in September 2019, on average the response time on 911 calls involving violent crimes is 10 minutes. If Jack Wilson had not reacted in less than 6 seconds and they waited on law enforcement to show up, more people would have probably died that day.
If we take a moment and study the entire BJS report, one of the more disturbing statistics is 63.5% of response times to a violent crime can take from 6 minutes to 1 hour before law enforcement arrives. Most attacks are well over by the time 1st responders arrive on the scene. I don’t know about you but if the average response time is 10 minutes and I only have seconds to save myself, one of my family members or an innocent person, I am taking action. I will be happy to articulate my actions when the police arrive.
If we take a look at the November 5, 2017 shooting at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church. What most churches don’t know the shooter went into the church, shot everyone that was there, then the shooter went back out to his vehicle to reload. The shooter then came back inside the church a second time and started to execute those that were still alive. As he was heading outside another time, possibly to get more ammo and continue killing people, he was confronted by Stephen Willeford. Stephen Willeford is also an NRA firearms instructor and “good guy with a gun” who had the presence of mind, training and alertness to see the shooter had on a ballistic vest with no side panels. That is where Stephen placed his first shot. Stephen Willeford’s intervention caused the shooter retreated to his truck and attempt to flee. If not for Stephen Willeford’s actions, responding from his home across the street from the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church more people would have died that day.
So when we discuss why we really need guns in churches, I remind people to look at the national average of response time for first responders arriving at a violent crime. Remember BJS reported the average response times on 911 calls involving violent crimes is 10 minutes. Clint Smith, President and Director of Thunder Ranch, said, "When seconds count, the cops are just minutes away." The shooting in White Settlement was over in less than 15 seconds because of an armed safety team. According to Julie Workman, a survivor of the shooting in Sutherland Springs Baptist Church, it was 15 minutes before the first responder came into the church after the shooter had left and the massacre had stopped. This reason alone gives you enough justification to have armed safety team members in your church.
When your church decides to form its’ own safety team here are a couple of suggestions. Look for current and retired law enforcement officers or military personal who attend your houses of worship. Enlisting the assistance of these individuals will help more rapidly create the safety team ministry. Remember this is a ministry like any other ministry in your church and should be considered as such. Speak to current or retired law enforcement or military personal about running the safety team or being at least an advisor due to their training. Enlisting persons who may already have training and experience that qualifies them for safety team members makes sense from a safety as well as a liability standpoint. When the church takes on the duty of providing security-type services, it must do so “reasonably,” and from a liability conscious perspective. A church’s actions are more likely to be considered “reasonable” and less likely to be negligent if the individuals it chooses to be responsible for protecting the congregation are those who have extensive public safety and emergency response training.
After developing your team the now comes the discussion of proper training for churches and houses of worship. With or without proper training a church runs the risk of being sued when a safety team member has to use his or her weapon. Litigation can be greatly reduced if there is a history of the delivery of a high-quality training program. The training program should be focused on being proactive and watching for those that may come into your church to do harm. Policy and procedures should be in place that state all armed safety team members must do some sort of active shooter training by a reputable company to help reduce liability. James Simmons with Simmons Law Group explains the importance of church firearm training. "Unfortunately, a Church runs the risk of being sued whenever a safety team member fires their weapon. However, legal liability exposure is greatly reduced when safety team members are trained by professionals, there is proper documentation, and safety protocols are followed. Therefore, by being proactive and vigilant, you reduce the possibility of violence and mitigate the Church's legal liability."
Training like Situational Awareness, Threat Profiling, Verbal De-escalating and using tools such as Laser Shot shoot don’t shoot simulators assists safety team members with becoming proactive and not reactive in reducing violent encounters. It is critical that you employ the assistance of reputable companies that make church safety their primary focus. If the company’s main focus is not the expansion of the kingdom of God, be leery of their training techniques. Church safety teams are not a police department or a military unit, they are servants of God and the church. A person in need can be misidentified as a possible threat. If handled incorrectly and without compassion the encounter can lead to severe legal or civil liability, not to mention the missed opportunity to minister to someone in need. We cannot stress the importance of proper training from Christian based organizations like Trinity Security Allies.
All safety team members should hold themselves accountable to a high standard. When carrying a firearm inside the church to protect the flock, armed team members must understand that they are held to a higher standard because of the power they hold. We must not take this position lightly. Remember we are working on expanding the kingdom of God, all glory is to Him and we are his watchmen/watchwomen over His Bride. Remember “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away”. 1 Peter 5:2-4.
For more information on this topic, go to TrinitySecurityAllies.com/Resources and download your free booklet on Carrying Weapons in Church.
[Reference: The Best and Worst Police Response Times of 10 Major U.S. Cities https://www.securitysales.com/news/best-worst-police-response-times/
I want to thank everyone for your thoughts and prayers over the Christmas holidays. Most of you know that my mother passed away Christmas day and I spent the next week in Virginia with the family and attending the funeral. I drove up to Virginia and had the chance to reflect on my mother’s life. My mother was an amazing person. Some who have known her might have called her opinionated, hardheaded and would not back down from a fight. They would be correct in all accounts but I feel my mother had that right. So today I am going to step away from Trinity Security Allies and talk a little about my mother.
Born in 1936, Mom was the oldest of five siblings. Her family was not rich but I heard they where hard working and provided for all the children. Mom would tell me that her father was tough on her and even though she didn’t talk about it, I felt there may have been some abuse in the family. In her teens she lost one of her brothers to an illness and years later she lost a sister in an automobile accident. She was married at 17 to my dad and proceeded to have 4 sons. The first three boys were only two years apart in age with my youngest brother not coming into the family until I was 14 years old.
The thing I remember about my mom and dad were they were both hard workers and had a strong religious beliefs. As early as I can remember I have always been in the church. We were Baptist so on Sunday we would go to Sunday school and then the Sunday service. We would head home for lunch and a possible nap and then back to church for the Sunday evening service. Even when we moved from Fort Worth to Glen Rose that tradition didn’t stop. The only difference was that First Baptist Church in Fort Worth and the First Baptist Church in Glen Rose was the size. In Glen Rose we knew all the church members and sometime our Sunday would be an all day church function. Sunday school, the service and lunch with a member’s family or at the church. Small town living. Our parents formed our base on family, hard work, going to church and loving the Lord. My brothers and I lived for making our parents proud of us and we worked really hard on not disappointing them.
When my father shot and killed a deacon of our church after a Sunday night service in 1970 the world that we had grown up in just fell apart. We moved from the small town comfort of Glen Rose and actuality got lost in the larger town of Pensacola, FL. I went from a graduating class of 35 to a class of over 300. At 16 years old I became bitter and angry about what had happened and my mother and I drifted apart. I resented the fact that she would not think about the past but always was looking at the future. She realized to think about the past would only cause her to loose focus on her mission in life, that of taking care of her four boys. We never went hungry, always had clothes to wear and a warm place to lay our head down at night.
Even though there was so much uncertainty at times, the three oldest boys never lost sight of our one mission in life. Making our mother proud. We feared disappointing her more than anything else. We knew right from wrong and believe me, we were no saints but the thing we feared the most was having her come and get us out of jail if we did something wrong. If we got into trouble we had told each other that we would beg the officer to keep us in jail because we knew our life was over as we knew it when she came to get us out of jail.
But there was the base. The Christian and the hard working base that seemed to keep us out of trouble. I know I tried but it was mostly stupid things that would get me a slap on the wrist and the wrath of Mom but nothing that I would spend time in jail for. She had instilled in us the golden rule; love your neighbors as you love yourselves. We were always polite and known as good boys that she could be proud of.
In 1975 when I joined Norfolk Police Department my mother stopped talking to me for a year. Not that police work wasn’t a noble job; it was that she feared I might get killed. She also had a dream of be getting into ministry work. When she finally started talking to me again, two of my brothers joined the force and now she was mad at me because she felt that I was the instigator on getting them to enlist in the force and now she had to worry about all three oldest. Later in my career Mom found some pictures of us when we were small. In every picture we had guns on. Even in our pajamas we were armed with our toy six-shooters. She gave me copies of the pictures with a note stating “I should have figured out that all of you boys were either going to be outlaws or lawmen. I am always proud of telling people what my boys do for a living.” At her eulogy, the pastor praised her for raising four boys that were servants. The three oldest serving the community and the youngest serving the Lord as a minister. That she could hold her head up high for her dedication and hard work she had put into us to build that base. She built our base and because of that we never disappointed her.
What does this have to do with Trinity Security Allies? When we started this ministry she was one of our biggest supporters. It was full circle, I was now serving God training people to protect the flock. She didn’t get her minister but she did get me back into the church. Without her base on God, family and hard work I would not be where I am today. According to MARRIpedia, an online social science encyclopedia on all matters related to family, marriage, and religion, the rise in violent crime parallels the rise in families abandoned by fathers and that neighborhoods with a high degree of religious practice are not high-crime neighborhoods. So because of my mother’s strong degree of trust in God, she had four boys that all became servants and not burdens to society.
If we do not get back to the family and our love of God we are going to see more and more violence against not only the family but also the church. When we look back at the recent church violent incidents we see broken men coming from broken families and we as the church need to step up and change this. Men with the help of our wives need to lead our families to what my mother and father did which was loving God and hard work, not just work but servanthood. This is the base that formed the Howard boys and needs to be the base that we use to change the world. Thank you Mom, I love you and know that I will see you again.
In December of 2008 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) came out with their program to combat an active shooter situation with Run-Hide-Fight. DHS presented it as Run then Hide and then Fight in a linear process. I felt it needed more so when I first started to use Run-Hide-Fight in training, I added another part, Focus. Once you hear the gunshots you needed to Focus on where the shots originated from so you didn’t run toward the shooting. Having heard gunshots in a building it is sometimes difficult to tell exactly where they are coming from. They will echo off walls travel down hallways and so it is sometimes hard to tell the actual location of the shooter. So we taught in churches to first Focus and see if you can tell the location of shooter before Run-Hide-Fight.
I was still having a hard time with Run-Hide-Fight, there was something about it that I couldn’t put my finger on it that bothered me. In fact the only reason I used the DHS Run-Hide-Fight was because everyone had heard it and hey you don’t argue with the government. They know best, right? Then the Houston Police Department came out with their training video on Run-Hide-Fight. If you have never seen this video, you can view it here and then you will understand some of my other issues with Run-Hide-Fight. In this video you see what looks like a Houston office complex with people dressed in business attire going about their daily routines. Then here comes this Vin Diesel looking character dressed in all black with black shades walking into the building and then pulling a shotgun out of the black backpack and starts shooting. I think you can follow where I am going with this, the shooter was an anomaly from the start.
The second thing I noticed with the video was that everyone except maybe the security guard is under 50 and also in good shape. Of course the security guard is probably under 50 but he is the first one to get shot. What they didn’t show in this video were any elderly or those that might not be in the best shape of their life. It also appeared that not one person with disabilities worked in this office complex. Do they not exist in a real-world active shooting situation? Did we just leave them out or do we not want to discuss that possibility?
When we first began talking about our safety policies and procedures for our new building; when we got to the active shooter portion most team members pushed Run-Hide-Fight. Having walked the property numerous times, I asked him “run where”? The response was to their cars or behind trees, just get out of the building as fast as they can. I disagreed: we needed to barricade the doors and try to keep the shooter from getting into our worship center and the children’s ministry. After a couple of minutes of a little tense discussion we walked the property and came to an agreement that Run-Hide-Fight would not work.
Sometimes people get hung up on the fact that the Department of Homeland Security created the Run-Hide-Fight environment. Law enforcement agencies all over the country started putting on seminars covering Run-Hide-Fight; it was the end all be all for all churches. But after looking over our church’s property and members we felt that it was not a good option. One size does not fit all and we needed to make some major changes. The first thing we pointed out was our location. In the Houston video the ones that ran out of the building went into alley ways or around large power boxes and used them to hide from the shooter. Our church is located on a large piece of property where there is really nowhere to hide from someone shooting at you. If the shooter is mobile or even if there are two shooters, getting from the church to a position of cover is a little bit of a sprint. Getting into your car will make you less mobile until you are moving off of the campus. Sitting in a stationary car makes a parishioner an easier target for the shooter. And your vehicle is not bulletproof like they appear to be in the movies. A shot to the door by most weapons used by shooters, even handguns will penetrate the door. If there is a traffic jam in the parking lot then everyone is stuck and the shooter has plenty of targets until the shooting stops.
How about hiding behind the trees on the property? How many trees do you have on your property. How far are the trees from the church, up against the building or 50 to 100 yards away. How many people can you get behind a tree at one time until it makes it a non-viable cover spot. Not that many. If you have an open field next to your church, where does the congregation and children go? If your church has multiple buildings you could use those buildings to run to but you have to have a plan in place to know which building is best to run toward when the shooting starts. You do not want to take an active shooter towards your children’s ministry building. You should be moving the shooter as far away from you children as possible.
The next thing we considered are our elderly and people with disabilities. Every time I walk into our worship center I look for my elderly and those with a disability in case I need to move them out of the church in the event of a fire. But that becomes a major issue with Run-Hide-Fight; well the Run part. What do I do about those that either cannot run because of age or those with disabilities? We have to have a plan in place for everyone.
Recently I received a call from a church that wanted to talk about active shooting training. They had gotten our information from one of the law enforcement agencies we work closely with. The first thing I told him was that I didn’t teach Run-Hide-Fight. I explained to him that Pew Research showed on average most churches had 25% of their congregation over the age of 65. He joked and said flip that, that most of his congregation was over the age of 65, that it was about 80% of the church so he understood that Run-Hide-Fight wasn’t going to work for him either. He just needed some sort of solution to protect his flock.
So here is what we teach; we need to find a way to protect those inside our church, our children’s ministry and the worship center without a lot of movement. Even though I felt that we at Trinity Security Allies came up with this years ago, we didn’t give it a cool acronym like what Pasco County Sheriff’s Department does. Pasco County teaches the ABC of an Active Shooting to their schools. A is for Alert, B is for Barricade and C is for Confront. When the crisis starts you Alert others of what is going on and start to lockdown. Then you Alert local law enforcement of the situation. You then take yourself and others and Barricade yourself and those with you in a secure room. If you can’t get yourself into a room away from the shooter, you must Confront the shooter by whatever means are available. I hope one day this technique will be taught all over the United States.
First step of any active shooter planning for a church is to look at your strength and weaknesses. My first walkthrough of any new church is to see if doors in the children’s ministry, classrooms and worship center will lock. You would be surprised how many times I find all the doors in a children’s ministry without locks and then walk over to where the church keeps its audio visual equipment and find doors Fort Knox would be proud of. I don’t understand why we put so much emphasis on things we can replace with insurance over our most precious treasure; our children. If you don’t have locks to protect your children that is one of the first items that has to be implemented. No ifs, ands or buts. Our number one priority should be to protect the children.
If you have classrooms, put locks on the doors so you can lockdown or find rooms in the building that will work as a rendezvous point. We work with a church in Lakeland that has multiple stories so we picked rooms on every floor for everyone to run to incase of a lockdown. Each room had something specific that would allow you to lock the doors and then put things against the door, turn off the lights and get low. Some rooms we picked had water and facilities in case someone was injured or if they were going to be in the room for a long period of time.
So we have alerted local law enforcement and barricaded the best we can; we realize we may have to confront the danger. In the old west when new settlers in wagon trains headed out for fresh opportunities you had different positions that would protect the travelers. There would be the wagon captain that was in charge of the journey and they would send out scouts to watch for dangers across the horizon. They would be out watching for that anomaly that looked like a threat. If they saw anything that made them feel uncomfortable they would come back to the wagon train and get ready to circle the wagons.
This is why your rovers are so important. If they spot a Vin Diesel looking guy with black clothing and black glasses with a black backpack heading toward your church and they don’t know who it is, there needs to be an intervention. The Burnette Chapel Church of Christ and the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shootings, the shooters work black tactical clothes with some sort of mask over their faces. They both shot at someone or the church before they went inside the churches. Once the rover spots a possible danger and has alerted other safety team members of what he has the team needs to start moving into lockdown or circling the wagons.
Church volunteers must make sure the lockdown is taking place. Not everyone needs to be going against the threat. If you have contacted local law enforcement, gotten your doors locked and everyone down, you have just saved lives. If your doors are not glass but wooden doors that lock, remember information gained from the Sandy Hook investigation; “that no violent intruder has ever entered a locked classroom”. We know that time is against an active shooter so they are looking for easy targets. Kicking in doors where there might not be anyone is wasting time. Looking at the October shooting at the Germany synagogue, the shooter was not able to get into the synagogue because of the locked wooden doors but two innocent bystanders were killed because they didn’t move away from the shooter.
So we have gotten the church on lockdown. We know where most of our worshipers are located and now we work on keeping the threat from entering the church. If our rover was successful and alerting us of the threat we then proceed to lock all doors leading into the church if possible. We do not go outside after the threat. Let law enforcement handle that. Our entry doors are glass, we know that the armed intruder is going to have to break out the glass to get inside. This gives you an opportunity to plan to confront the shooter. If you have armed safety team members they should be moving toward cover and now directing their aim as the attacker tries to make their way into the church. If you do not have armed safety team members, use whatever you have available to confront the assailant. I love when I go through a church that provides hymnals or Bibles in their worship center. A person with a gun facing 30 to 40 heavy books raining down on him gives you a lot of opportunity to get to that person and get the weapon away from them before they even fire a shot.
Using the analogy of the wagon train again, after successfully fighting off the threat you never saw members of the wagon train hoping on their horses and chasing after the threat. You took care of those that have been injured or in the case of an active shooter you are doing what the local law enforcement is advising you to do, but you don’t go chasing after the enemy. Yes our hero in Sutherland Springs, Stephen Williford did go after the shooter but he wasn’t in the church. As a safety team leader or member, your responsibility is the flock. Let the police or good Samaritans like Williford handle the bad guy.
Run-Hide-Fight taught us we had to be ready for an attack on our churches. It also made us aware there is more than an active shooter we have to be prepared for in our houses of worship. We see domestic issues, disruptive attendees, medical incidents and even lost children. I heard a safety team member from another church say that it was a boring job being a safety team person. First, I like boring and second it ain’t all about him and third he doesn’t have the servant heart to be on my team. Yes it may seem boring but we cannot become complacent. We must always be on alert. Safety Team Member give yourself no rest for Satan is out there like a roaring lion looking for a church to destroy. Soon churches will be overflowing with visitors and members for the Christmas season and Satan would just love to disrupt us when we are celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Watchmen/Watchwomen we cannot let this happen, not at our church, not on our watch. Be safe and have a fantastic Christmas season.
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.