Last year’s shootings at a Colorado mission and megachurch are a reminder that even houses of worship must address security.
One major initiative is the Secure Community Network, or SCN (pronounced “scan”), organized by major American Jewish leadership organizations to bring Jewish community security under one group. SCN’s Web site is packed with security resources and advice for all types of houses of worship. ASIS International also has church security guidelines, which include advice on physical security and on hiring security personnel.
“The biggest void between police and security in the public is the flow of information,” says SCN’s National Director Paul Goldenberg. SCN attempts to rectify that issue by forging relationships with law enforcement.
The group receives sensitive information on threats to the Jewish community around-the-clock, which it then disseminates to its members. Goldenberg adds that the SCN is the first nongovernmental organization to have a memorandum of understanding with the New York City Police Department.
The group is also working with the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate its house of worship training. The most important step a house of worship can take is to train its staff to handle threatening situations and to ensure that they are able to operate any security equipment the building has, says Goldenberg, who was part of a south Florida undercover strike force for several years.
Training is all the more important in this field given that many house of worship security force members are volunteers and may not have law enforcement backgrounds.
Some states are requiring that volunteers get licensed or that churches hire only licensed security professionals.
Texas, for example, requires that anyone providing volunteer security services under the title “security” be licensed by the state. That law forced Dallas megachurch The Potter’s House last year to professionalize its force, says Sean Smith, who was the security director there when he says the Texas Private Security Bureau told the church it would be fined because the volunteer security team was unlicensed.
The church chose to contract its security to an outside company. Smith went through the state licensing program and became senior account manager, with the rest of the security staff coming from the contracted company.
“It’s just forcing us to be better,” says Smith, adding that once the church contracted its security out, its liability insurance “dropped tremendously.”
Chuck Chadwick, of the National Association of Church Security & Safety Management (NACSSM), thinks crackdowns like the one in Texas are necessary. “Unlicensed security is rampant across the country,” he says.
Jim Hashem, chief of staff of Kingdom Life Christian Church in Milford, Connecticut, had his all-volunteer security force trained by an outside company and licensed. Even so, says Hashem, if there is even a hint of violence, his security team is instructed to immediately call 911. The team’s job is only to manage the interim time before the police show up.
And they avoid physical confrontation. “[We’ve] trained our people that the best way through a situation is to try to talk your way through it first,” Hashem explains.
The Potter’s House sponsors a church security conference called STOPPED (Security Training Offering Policies, Procedure, Education, and Direction), which has brought in actors for demonstrations on how to handle an irate congregation member. That’s more typical than a shooter.
Smith says such comprehensive training is integral to responding effectively. “If all you’ve practiced on is what to do when the guy comes with a gun, then what do you do when the alcoholic comes, and he’s drunk?” he says, adding that “you’re going to see that a hundred times more than what happened in Colorado.”