As the small South Texas town of Sutherland continues to recover from a mass shooting that left 26 dead, some local church officials are talking about security in their houses of worship.
Grayson County Sheriff Tom Watt said he is planning to put a safety plan up on the SO’s Facebook page to help local churches that might want to implement or improve their safety plans.
“Or I might actually just put up an invitation for them to contact us about the plan,” Watt added noting that the best plan is one that isn’t well known to everyone.
Watt said he hadn’t talked to any church leaders about security since the shootings in Sutherland, but he had been approached by a number of them before that point. He said he talked with a number of those leaders and knows that some local churches have taken steps to prepare for the unthinkable.
“The days of walking around thinking everything is OK are over,” Watt said. “It is incumbent upon church pastors, their duty to create a plan that offers them some opportunity to defend themselves.”
Watt then talked about the group called Gatekeepers Security Services, a security and investigations team out of Frisco. While it might seem odd to some that there is a business that focuses on security for churches, a quick internet search will show that is not all. There are entire associations devoted to it including the National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management. Local churches, Watt said, have used security measures taught by Gatekeepers.
One such church is Georgetown Baptist in Pottsboro.
Pastor Bobby Hancock said several men in the church came to him a few years ago and said they wanted to be better prepared in case something might happen.
“We had had a couple of people come onto our campus,” Hancock said, indicating those people caused those church members to be concerned. The concerned church members, he said, went to a training conference which led them to become involved with a group called Gatekeepers. That organization, he said, offers training that leads to people being classified as personal protection officers.
From that, the team of about six men, he said, has organized itself into a protection force for the church. On any given Sunday, he said, there are a number of them there at services including one in a room watching the feed from the churches 26 cameras stationed around the property.
“If anything were to happen here (like it happened in Sutherland) we would have a pretty good chance of getting to that individual before he could (get into the congregation),” Hancock said.
He said the team hasn’t been hidden from the general congregation, but it wasn’t something that was openly discussed either.
That is going to change this Sunday, he said, because he is going to discuss it with the congregation so that they know what is being done to try to keep them safe while they worship.
Hancock said when he first started preaching, he never thought he would have to think about the security of his congregation. But that, he said, was a different time. Now he is just as likely to preach his Sunday sermon armed as he is to do it without a firearm on his person.
People who want to do harm, he said, often start with the person in charge and he wants to have chance to stop any danger from spreading.
Hancock said the people who are on that protection team also make it a point to try to know which other members of the congregation might be armed.
He said the protection team encourages the other armed church members to be cautious when responding to anything they may deem to be a threat so that those who are seeking to help don’t become a liability. Church members are urged to make getting their families safely out of the church and keeping them protected their primary responsibilities.
Another local church that has taken security to heart is First Baptist in Sherman. Pastor Mike Lawson said their plan has been in place for five years or more and wasn’t a response to the most instant incident of violence at a church.
Lawson also declined to discuss specifics of their plan citing the need to keep those details private. However, he said, it was devised after speaking with law enforcement personnel and officials at churches who had been through incidents.
“There are people we can depend upon,” he said. While he declined to talk numbers, Lawson said “we have enough to cover all that needs to be covered,” depending on the event taking place.
Having to tailor security plans to specific events and places can make it harder to feel secure, but Lawson said he senses that their congregation does feel that way. He said incidents like what happened in Sutherland probably don’t scare the congregation, but it might make some experience a “heightened desire to” know that there is a plan in place.
Hancock said he knows the Sheriff’s Office has offered to help churches look at their security plans, but he also wants other churches to know that his group is willing to help as well. He said other church pastors are welcomed to tour Georgetown and see the way they have set up their security detail.
He said he really encourages other churches to have some kind of security plan in place so that if the unimaginable darkens their doorsteps, they have some idea of how to deal with it while the authorities are on their way.