Churches evaluate security after Sutherland Springs shooting

By Racey Burden | Published Wednesday, November 8, 2017

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Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Following the deadly mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs Sunday, some local churches are taking a second look at their own security.

“We had a staff meeting this morning to review our security measures,” Victory Family Church Associate Pastor Chris Bates said Tuesday. “We have a security team, and we’re updating and reviewing our emergency plans.”

Though every church hopes never to experience an active shooter situation like the one in Sutherland Springs, many already had certain risk-mitigating factors in place prior to the shooting – locked doors, key pads and security cameras.

At Victory certain members of the usher team are authorized to conceal carry within the church, which doesn’t allow other weapons in the building. There are safes with guns inside the church, and Bates said the parking lot greeting team is trained to alert staff if they see armed persons trying to enter the church. A new safety measure they plan to implement is not allowing backpacks in the sanctuary.

First Baptist Church of Decatur is also reviewing its security, and Executive Pastor Mike Stallsworth said the church already hires police officers or security guards for its peak hours, during Sunday and Wednesday services or big events. They also run background checks on all employees.

“We feel like we’re in pretty good shape,” Stallsworth said.

Darren Embree, the pastor of CrossRoads Church in Decatur, said he’d prefer not to elaborate on the church’s emergency plan, but they do have one that they don’t plan to change.

Jody Adams, a deacon at Decatur Church of Christ, said the Sutherland Springs shooting has caused the church to reflect on its current security with a push toward putting a better emergency plan into place. One challenge he mentioned is finding a happy medium between having enough security to make the congregation feel safe, but not so much so that the church feels like a compound. “We have what everybody has – big, glass doors, and they’re open on Sunday,” Adams said. “It really makes you pause. Do you want armed guards? Do you want metal detectors? We really don’t want that. We want people to feel welcome.

“Most churches don’t have the budget for an armed guard,” he added. “They can’t afford that.”

A piece of legislation that went into effect this September actually aims to fix that problem, especially for smaller churches who don’t have room in the budget for security. A bill authored by State Rep. Matt Rinaldi of Irving makes it legal for churches to have armed volunteer guards. Prior to the bill passing, churches had to pay private security firms or pay $400 for a “letter of authority” from the state to have their own volunteer security teams, Rinaldi told the Texas Tribune.

“Before the law was passed, individuals in church could still carry,” Rinaldi said in an interview with the Tribune. “What this allows the church to do, which I think is safer, is identify who those people are and coordinate so that everybody knows who’s providing security.”

A common theme among the church representatives the Messenger spoke to is regret that the discussion of safety against mass shooters even needs to be had. But since it’s an issue, they have to keep their congregations safe.

“I know it’s scary. People are very nervous,” Bates said. “The worst thing we can do as leaders is seem unprepared or unorganized.

“We want people to come here and focus on God and prayer and not worry, ‘What’s going to happen to our kids?’ or ‘What happens if a maniac comes in?'”

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