Oconee Co. Sheriff Office Encouraging Church Security Training - WSPA.com

Oconee Co. Sheriff Office Encouraging Church Security Training

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Oconee Co. Sheriff Office Encouraging Church Security Training Oconee Co. Sheriff Office Encouraging Church Security Training
Locks have been added to most of the doors at Utica Baptist Church. Locks have been added to most of the doors at Utica Baptist Church.
Utica Baptist Church added more landlines in case cell phones aren't readily available. Utica Baptist Church added more landlines in case cell phones aren't readily available.

Joe Steele, Student Pastor at Utica Baptist Church, quickly learned from the Oconee County Sheriff's Office that church security goes beyond hiring armed, trained security detail.

"He kind of opened my eyes that there's just so much more involved in safety than an active shooter situation," Steele says.

Steele met with Sergeant Mike McGowan, with the Oconee County Sheriff's Office, several months ago to look at the Church's security plan. Steele says the biggest thing he learned is to plan for every situation.

"What happens if there's a fire," Steele says, "What if there's a tornado?"

"Churches need to understand the importance of being prepared before an event could happen. We are not trying to create panic but we are partnering with our area churches to keep everyone safe so they can enjoy their worship experience," Sgt. McGowan says.

Since the training Utica Baptist has added locks to all the children and preschool doors. They also only allow approved parents pick up a child. All the workers working with the kids have to pass a background check.

Sgt. McGowan pointed out to them that there is a "dead zone" for cell service in one part of the church, so they installed a land line phone.

They've also added a camera and doorbell outside the building so they can see who's at the door. These changes are only the beginning.

"A very long to do list came out of that," Steele says.

The Church is working to keep the campus safe but still inviting.

"We don't ever want to be locked down in a holy huddle and restricting ourselves and our message because we're so scared," Steele says.

Sgt. McGowan is willing to come do a church safety meeting at other churches too to help create a safer community.

When it comes to disruptions during service the Sheriff's Office offers the following advice:

    1) Someone in a leadership or office holding position should ask them to refrain from their activity or ask them to leave if they fail to do so. If at all possible, refrain from physically placing hands on those individuals unless it is necessary to protect themselves or others from physical harm.

    2) Regardless of circumstances, 911 should be called to request law enforcement assistance. The Sheriff's Office will respond immediately or notify the appropriate city police department.

    3) If possible, someone should document the incident by recording the incident using a smartphone.

    4) If deemed necessary, it may be a good idea to having the auditorium or sanctuary cleared for the safety of others who are there.

    5) If they do voluntarily leave, try to get a vehicle description or tag number. Contact law enforcement with that information.

    6) When law enforcement arrives and those individuals are still there, have those individuals who are disrupting the service placed on trespass notice. The Sheriff's Office will arrest anyone in violation of disturbing a worship service.

    7) Assist law enforcement with thorough written statements and any video evidence.

    8) If in the future these individuals return, immediately call 911.

To schedule a meeting call Sgt. McGowan at (864)638-2017.

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Kate Valentine
Kate is a general assignment reporter covering Anderson, Greenwood, Abbeville and Oconee Counties.
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