It’s a house of God and — like other houses — safety and security should be a concern.
That’s the message security expert Tina Lewis Rowe brought to a Feb. 27 gathering of 150 faith leaders and law enforcement officers in Minnesota.
“When I talk about church safety, I’m not talking about a SWAT team for your church,” Rowe said. “I mean just someone who is alert and ready to help at a moment’s notice.”
While local places of worship report a small number of crimes, tragedies elsewhere underscore Rowe’s key point: Preparation is key.
“We live in an age where we ought to be aware of what’s going on around us,” she said. “If something looks dangerous, it probably is and we need to take some action about that.”
Rowe points to statistics from church security expert Carl Chinn, who was a responder in a standoff involving a gunman and hostages at the Focus on the Family ministry in Colorado in 1996.
From 1999 until September, there were 723 “deadly force incidents,” including abductions and suicides, at faith-based organizations in the United States. About 38 percent of those incidents resulted in death.
Last year, there were 31 homicides and suicides at faith-based organizations nationwide. Guns, knives, automobiles, explosives and more have been used to kill at places of worship, according to Chinn.
What makes a place normally associated with peace and joy a site for violence or other crimes? Places of worship often minister to those whose behavior is affected by addiction or other mental illness.
“We’re the only flock of sheep where we invite the wolf in and we are happy they are here,” said Rowe, a retired Denver police captain and former U.S. marshal.
Waite Park Police Chief Dave Bentrud, who helped organize the event, said he has responded to places of worship during his career for a variety of reasons, including burglaries, theft, intoxicated people or because someone is mentally ill.
“For churches to be on the cutting edge, if you will, as far as safety planning, I think it’s a prudent thing to do,” Bentrud said.
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SOURCE: USA Today
Frank Lee, St. Cloud (Minn.) Times