Safety and Security

Last weekend I handled a credible death threat to one of our ministers – this was a first for me. The good news is that everything that I had put in place several years ago worked. The minister and family were well protected and all are safe. The minister and I will see if we need to continue the the protection and the alert or if the threat has dissipated enough. Some threats may never go away – they just diminish in intensity.

There are two factors to church safety and security: passive and active.

Passive measures are related to technology

  • Cameras:
    • I installed over 30 cameras throughout our facilities. All exit doors and hallways have a camera. The camera is facing toward the inside the building so as to capture the image of everyone leaving the building. The important thing is not who comes into our buildings but who leaves and what or with whom they are leaving, especially if it is a struggling child.
    • Recently our state police gave us a security check-up (free, by the way – ask for one from your police department). They made several good recommendations but when they saw the quality of image from our cameras, they were impressed. They commented that our images are better than Wal-Mart or Bass Pro Shops – that pleased me.
    • The cameras work. About every two years I catch early teens on camera doing something they shouldn’t. Just last November, I caught two 13 year old who pulled a fire alarm. The kids left the church immediately but through the camera images, we identified the kids. Within 40 minutes the youth pastor called their homes asking them to “man up.” Word got around the youth that the church has cameras everywhere.
  • Kid ID
    • Every church should use some check-in system for children so that to retrieve a child, you have to have a matching card. This is a very simple system and inexpensive to implement. It is not foolproof but it is an effort to ensure that a child leaves only with someone who has the correct documentation.
    • More advanced systems use technology. When a family arrives at church, the parents check-in and a document is printed for both the parents and another document is printed in the classroom where the children are going. Some check-in systems use biometrics (such as a fingerprint – because you can’t forget and leave your fingers at home) to generate the documents for each child. These are very good systems – so long as the staff and volunteers are trained in using them and actually follow them. Training is the key!
    • Another technology is that of buzzer like in a restaurant. This is done in addition to the above systems. When a non-verbal child is checked in, the parents are given the option of receiving a buzzer. If the childcare workers need to get in touch with the parents for whatever reason, they can buzz the parents. The parents can be summoned quietly (without bothering anyone else) and they can be reached anywhere in the building (within a quarter mile). Buzzers are better than displays because it can reach a parent who is in a bathroom, a hallway, or anywhere.

Active systems involve personnel and there are several layers to the personnel.

  • Hall monitors
    • In children’s areas, there should always be a hall monitor who knows the teachers and staff. This person’s job description is to ensure that unauthorized people are not wandering the children’s hall(s). This person can also be greeter or an additional set of hands to fetch things from the resource room but his or her primary job is to keep out unnecessary people.
  • Paid Uniformed Officer
    • Many churches have a Sunday morning cop to direct traffic. But this officer has another, unseen, and far more important role – being a deterrent. If someone bent on evil sees a police officer directing traffic, this person may decide to go to the next church instead of wreaking havoc on your church (sorry for the next church!).
    • The officer is directing traffic only about 30-45 minutes on a Sunday morning even though we pay for three hours (the minimum allowed by the police department). So, the rest of the time, I ask the officer to come inside the building to get coffee, get to know the greeters, let the greeters get to know him, and be seen by members of the church so they’ll feel comfortable knowing they are in a safe place.
  • Safety Officer Team
    • This team consists of only current or former police. Military are excluded because their training is to shoot and then ask questions; police are trained to use words first and bullets only as a last resort.
    • My sole request for the team members is that when they come to church, they continue to be police officers and not let down their guard. None of them come armed except when I ask them to. Team members are in all of our services, both traditional and contemporary.
    • The team meets once a year when I invite them to lunch as a way of saying thanks – it is also a time for me to remind them of the seriousness of their volunteer jobs. An important function at the lunch is for the members to get to know each other so they all know who are the other good guys. At the first lunch, a state trooper of 40+ years met a city policeman of 36+ years for the first time even though they sit only five rows from each other.
So, what did I do this past weekend
  • I asked two members of my safety officer team to come armed to church.
  • I hired a plainclothes police officer whose job was to watch over the minister in all services
  • I alerted the local police department
  • I keep the minister and other key staff informed of what I was doing
  • I met with the paid officer and volunteer on Sunday morning to ensure everyone knew what to do
  • One of my safety officers tracked down the person who made the threat and got a photo of the guy so that he could identified (he was a marginal attender)
  • I authorized the police to forcibly remove him as a trespasser if he came to our church
All is well, for now, and that is a very, very good thing!

If you think I’m overreacting by implementing all that I’ve done, let me give you one statistic: from 1999 to 2007, 41 people died in churches (not including church-related facilities like camps) from gunshots alone (not including blades, poisoning, or other means). Gun violence in church is real. A church is no longer a safe sanctuary from the real world. Do a safety and security check on your church; consider implementing the systems listed above; and do not rely only on “God’s protection” to take care of you.

Lead On!