LUMBERTON, N.C. (WBTW) – As more places of worship have been attacked nationwide, the Robeson County Sheriff is trying to make sure all worshippers are prepared in case of an active shooter.
Sheriff Burnis Wilkins says he prays a shooting doesn’t happen in any house of worship in the county. He’s also trying to inform congregations about what they can do to be safe.
Houses of worship aren’t immune from violence and mass shootings. Two people were shot and killed in a church near Fort Worth, Texas, in December. That same month, there were several deadly attacks targeting Jewish communities in and around New York City.
Sheriff Wilkins says he wants people to stop that type of violence from happening in Robeson County.
“This is not the type of training that I take pride in,” he said. “Who would have ever thought you’d be standing here, trying to teach folks how to protect themselves in a house of God?”
The sheriff’s office held a forum at Robeson Community College on Thursday night. The goal was to discuss ways for preventing and responding to active shooters in a house of worship.
The sheriff’s office says congregations should form security committees to secure vulnerable entrances and organize a team for protection.
“Part of being aware and situational awareness is having a plan that you can go by, knowing what you’re going to do,” said Lt. Lewis Woodard, who’s the training coordinator for the sheriff’s office.
Lt. Woodard says plenty of training is necessary to react calmly and decisively in a crisis.
“You have to practice,” he said. “You can’t just say, ‘I got a concealed carry permit, now I’m an expert.’ I’m here to tell you I’ve been teaching firearms for many years, that’s just not the case.”
Sheriff Wilkins also says he wants his deputies to show their presence in every community.
“I’m now allowing all deputies in the county to drive a patrol car to church on Sunday and park it in a prominent location,” said Sheriff Wilkins. “That way, I know one person has got a gun.”
A study from the Faith Based Security Network says about 1,700 deadly force incidents have happened on religious properties across the country since 1999, with nearly 800 people killed.