Churches are generally open environments and therefore much more vulnerable than other controlled or semi-controlled workplaces and institutions. Churches by virtue of their nature and their openness tend to attract all types of individuals;
Therefore prudence should guide the church leadership and administrators as they seek to develop and improve on their security and safety initiatives.
All of our energies and resources were carefully balanced to consider both the insider and outsider threats and the potential risks of violence that come from just about anywhere. Our approach was focused upon developing an advanced understanding of the behavioral sciences which would give us further insight into aspects of violence/crime prevention and a much better understanding of threat analysis. We knew that this would be the foundation on which we would build and absolutely guide our tactical (physical security) and technical operations.
Our instructors were experts in the forensic behavioral sciences and they taught us a wide-range of material in violent crime behavior. Our training focus was intentional, diverse and highly specialized because of all the types of people and unique services that are provided within the church environment. We took courses on crimes against children, interpersonal violence, stalking, threat assessments and forensic linguistics, violence in the workplace and public institutions, emergency response, protective protocols and so much more.
Disruptions and Disturbances:
Disruptions and disturbances are not uncommon in houses of worship for several reasons. The unique ministry calling coupled with the gospel invitation and the openness of the environment is a major reason. You can be certain that the challenges will continue to exist. One of my educators once told me that the church is one of the only places where evil is welcome, of course in hopes for redemption not to perpetrate. The demographics and geographical locations of churches will also impact on the frequency of these challenges as will the specific churches vision and mission.
Serving as a Security Director in a large New York City Church we certainly encountered many of these unique and challenging situations. The training we received was not simply book knowledge, we used what we learned and it was proven quite successful. We would grow in our appreciation of all the specialized training and consultation we received.
Emotionally Disturbed Individuals:
Emotionally disturbed individuals are highly attracted to churches and one should be prepared to rapidly identify a potential concern. All concerns are not threats, but can be problematic if the security or greeters are not quick to discern, assess and handle the concern in a professional manner. Most emotionally troubled individuals are physically harmless, but tend to cause a great amount of anxiety and stress for those handling the situation. A trained team that quickly identifies the EDP or substance abuser will be better prepared to intervene before the situation escalates into an unpleasant incident. There are some cases where an emotionally disturbed person is a threat to harm themselves or others. Handling these cases requires skill and creativity. De-escalation is the goal, and if possible attempt to establish a rapport. Example if you encounter a delusional individual, do not confront their delusions head on, try aligning yourself with their misconceptions, this approach is most effective and can assist the security professional in gaining helpful intelligence.
Dangerous Persons and /or Groups:
Dangerous persons can be described as those whose intent is to take advantage or harm others. These types come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are con artists and expert manipulators and will attempt to exploit the naivete and compassionate nature of church goers for their own advantage. The offenders have their own internal motivation and some possess highly organized skill levels and seek to blend in to the environment and raise very little suspicion from others, including security. Other offenders are much more disorganized in their behavior and raise those red flags much easier for security to notice. The motivations here are generally for some financial or sexual advantage. These offenders find some churches viable hunting grounds and would rather be left to troll and exploit; but a team of security professionals who are not easily manipulated and experienced in behavioral identification and assessments are prepared to put an end to their predatory behavior.
Security must be on alert for worst case scenarios. We know that the eyes can intimidate, the feet can maim and the hands can kill. If you are concerned that an incident is possible than a team member should carefully monitor the hands and maintain constant visibility. These are guiding principles for all security professionals especially those in protective services. A gunman may choose to conceal their weapon until the moment is right for them or they may come in and breach the ingress brandishing the weapon. Churches and houses of worship should seriously consider the concept of armed security; at least have some responsible security personal ready to respond, should the worst happen. There are all kinds of training programs geared toward the active shooter scenario, please avail yourself to one of them.
Some security teams are also strengthening their churches infrastructure against the threat of terrorism and guarding against the potential violence and damage caused from weapons of mass destruction. A well-organized offender or group will attempt to blend in to the environment and not raise any obvious suspicion. Therefore a team that is highly trained and sensitized in behavioral identification and analysis will have a slight advantage and possibly pick up on some nuances and leakage (involuntary cues). Early intervention is a must if we are to prevent an incident from occurring.
Security professionals who serve in churches must learn to walk a spiritual tightrope and understand the ebbs and flows of the environment in order to maximize the effectiveness of the work.
A proactive approach is the most prudent of all in an attempt to harden the target and prevent any hurt or harm to the people we are entrusted to protect. In fact these techniques and approaches can be adapted and utilized in other open environments and institutions such as sporting venues, shopping malls and others.
Bill Martin is from the greater New York City Area and is an expert in threat management, executive protection and behavioral analysis. He is a trainer and expert in church security. He can be reached on Twitter @bmartin683.
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