06 January 2020

The In-House Model for Church Security

Since the terrible loss of life recently in Texas that was stopped by a good guy with a gun, the issue of church security is a hot topic.  Church security, especially internal security, is one of the most challenging responsibilities I have dealt with in over three decades of being in the law enforcement & security industry.

It is only after the last three years of being the head of security for Freedom Biker Church York that I realized what I didn't know.  This article in no way reflects the policies or feelings of Freedom Biker Church York.  Now that that is out of the way...

The vast majority of people giving advice on the issue of church security are citizens, some may also be Veterans, law enforcement, or security.  Few however have experience with actually performing church security.  For too many, including people I know and love, it's all about the gun.  An armed response at a place of worship is what I call the "nuclear response".  When church goers approach me on Sundays and let me know that they are armed and "there for me," I get the same sinking feeling as when I worked with police officers that were way to quick to draw their firearm.  These are also people that would never be invited onto my team.

Yesterday at our service, the Pastor gave me an opportunity say a few words about church security.  We are a rapidly growing church and I wanted to make sure there were no misunderstandings about the mission of our team and our mindset.  First, I spoke about what I see as the law enforcement / security officer response to church security.

To sum it up, either you use Veterans / law enforcement that currently attend your church to put a team together or pay for police coverage if there is money to do so.  In my experiences, many churches already have a formal or informal version of the volunteer type.  If possible, it is what I would suggest and here is why with some suggestions and adapting to what I call the "Bouncer Model".

Out of all the types of law enforcement and security I have been involved in, the one that taught me the most and has proven to be most beneficial to my church security responsibilities is the time I have spent as a bouncer at various venues from punk bars to country clubs.  It's actually not just limited to church security.  My next statement may not be popular with some, but I would rather have a person on my team with six months experience as a bouncer than two years as a cop.  Of course there are exceptions.

As a cop, you have, or at least you used to have the law behind you.  You also have the ability to call for more people.  As an option you can lock people up, and depending on the environment you may never see them again outside of court.  As a bouncer not only will you likely see them again but your ability to earn a living depends on it.  It's not like Roadhouse.  You can't just beat people up every night and stay in business.  We go to church because we have issues, people are allowed to have bad days, yell, cry, and sometimes lash out.  The church is a sanctuary and it takes gifted people to do security there.  For the most part you are dealing with family, and we all know that is a very hard thing.    For a good bouncer, having to put your hands on someone is their "nuclear option".  It's all about interpersonal communication skills AKA being able to talk to people.  Back to church security.

Members of a church security team must be compassionate , accommodating, approachable, and calm.  You want people who are there all the time and make others feel comfortable, while at the same time stay aware and know how to be subtle until it's time not to be.  They have to be able to be trusted with personal information.  They should be comfortable with violence and know when to use it.  They need to intimately know the congregation.  They should not be afraid to put their hands on people if the situation calls for that.   In an emergency, you want people who will close the distance and go to the threat.

Imagine yourself as a woman sitting in church on a Sunday morning and you get a text from your estranged ex-husband who knows where you are and he is coming to the church.  Would you feel more comfortable getting out of your seat to go outside to call 911, or whispering into the ear of one of the members of the church's security team what's going on?

This happened yesterday, and I was the one she whispered to.  I know the lady.  I know what's going on, and so does my team.  We had his picture and a vehicle description.  In seconds, we were able to put assets in place on doors and send a two man team to cover the parking lot.  This was accomplished all by the time she sat back down.  We know the people, we know the property, and we know each other.  As far as we know, he never came, or at least we never saw him.  That happened while she would have been on hold with 911 while they figured out if it was a call for the local or state police.

In almost all church shootings, or active shootings in general, it starts with a bad guy being able to get through a door where people are.  Texas is a perfect example of what happens when intelligence and plans fail or are never in place to begin with.  An armed man wearing a trench coat and a disguise was able to enter the sanctuary and kill two innocent people before a skilled good guy had the time and opportunity to take him out.

As is often the case when it comes to all things related to personal protection and preparedness, people concentrate on having 100 fire extinguishers instead of 1 smoke alarm.

From the faith view, even in a small church, if you can't put at least five guys together to start an in-house security team, your church is already failing on many levels.  It's time to stand up and defend yourselves.  It is not the responsibility or in the ability of the police to protect your house of worship. It's up to the church leadership.

Feel free to contact me by e-mail with any comments, concerns, or questions.  Thank you and God Bless- George

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