Protecting The Flock: Church Security - WSPA.com

Protecting The Flock: Church Security

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Think of a church, and you envision a place that's holy, peaceful. Think of a church, and you envision a place that's holy, peaceful.
Gregory Ramo Gregory Ramo
SPARTANBURG COUNTY, S.C. -

Think of a church, and you envision a place that's holy, peaceful.

But church security expert Carl Chinn says churches and other ministries were the scenes of 135 deadly force incidents in 2012, a 36 percent increase from 2011. Crimes like domestic violence and robberies. Seventy-five people were killed in those incidents.

In 2011, we told you about local churches getting security training. Now I've found more and more parishioners are packing heat in the pews to protect the flock.

One local church's security team is trained by David Bailey. He calls his Simpsonville security company "Secure Our Flocks."

Bailey invited 7 On Your Side photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer and me to observe a training session for the church security team. The training area was in Laurens County near Fountain Inn on wooded property owned by a friend of Bailey's.

You might call the security team God's Army. This day they had close-range target practice on a shooting range and learned first aid, skills they might need at their church, where they keep watch over the congregation during services. Team members told me that on a given Sunday as many as 20 people have the job of keeping the church safe.

I asked Bailey if there was a biblical or faith basis for such security at church. His reply, "Without a doubt... Nehemiah put watchers on the gate, didn't he?"

The team members asked us not to show their faces or give the name of their church. They were concerned it might jeopardize the church's security.

Team members told me they keep their eyes open in church for people who are upset or aggressive, and situations that might turn violent. "Usually, they're doing something that is out of the norm. They'll raise their voice, they will usually shout at other people, things like this." I asked who would handle such situations at church if there was not a security team? "It would most likely turn very violent. I think just the presence of a security team helps defer violence."

Another local church, Providence Baptist in Greenville County, is very open about its security.

Pastor Paul Wilson, a former security guard, told me, "Some people came up to me, said they had a concealed weapon permit, and they did carry their gun, did I have a problem with that? And I told them I didn't because I think it's good. If anybody comes in, they don't know who's got a weapon."

Providence members Gregory and Sherry Ramo, husband and wife, bring their guns to church. This night Gregory was packing two handguns. "I believe people might think there's money here, people with money, vulnerable people, people that are not protected, they can do as they wish... we're here to protect ourselves."

I asked Pastor Wilson if having guns in his church bothered him? "Yes, it does, but I know that we're living in the times we're living in. We have to really use common sense."

"You never know who may walk in the door and what they're gonna do. So you gotta be prepared."

Greenville County Sheriff Steve Loftis says he doesn't have enough manpower to protect every church in his county. Loftis says church security teams are a good idea if they're trained properly. "They've been trained to qualify for the CWP (Concealed Weapons Permit), but there is little to no training on how to approach a stranger, what to be on the lookout for," says Loftis.

Sherry Ramo told me she's never had to draw her gun in church and hopes she never has to. "Oh Lord, never, I hope never."

Digging deeper, I reached out to Southern Mutual Church Insurance Company, which insures nearly 5000 churches in the Carolinas, to see where it stands on churches having armed security teams. Marketing manager Matthew Quinton emailed a reply that said, in part: "We insure several churches that have armed security teams... we recommend the church have a written policy and seek out the assistance of law enforcement professionals as they designate their armed team..."

Short of taking a gun with you, what steps can you take to be safer in your church? I posed that question to Captain Chris Cowan of the Richland County (S.C.) Sheriff's Department. Captain Cowan makes presentations to churches about how to improve their security. His recommendations:

Be aware of your surroundings...

Park in well-lit areas...

And work with your church leaders to hold training sessions on safety precautions.

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