Local Ministers, Security Experts Talk Safety As Church Shootings Rise

Thursday, April 26, 2018 || By Tom Holmes || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley during the April 21 church security conference in Forest Park. | Lorenzo Weber/Facebook 

As minister of Hope Tabernacle Church in Forest Park, Rev. Persia Allen knows a lot about churches. And after serving roughly two decades as an officer in the Maywood Police Department, Allen also knows a lot about law enforcement.

Allen’s personal and professional interests merged April 21 at the “Guarding the Church and Community Conference,” which he helped organize and host at the church. The conference was an initiative of the Proviso Township Ministerial Alliance, of which Allen is a member.

The three-hour event focused on informing church leaders on how to keep their worshipers safe. And, arguably, the dialogue could not have come a more critical time.

According to a 2017 Pacific Standard article that references data compiled by criminologist Dallas Drake, there were 147 shootings in Christian churches in the 10 years between 2006 and 2016 — that’s more than the 137 shootings Drake found in the 25 years between 1980 and 2005.

Two of the most notorious of those shootings — the November 2017 at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tex. that left 26 people dead and the June 2015 shooting at Emanuel African American Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina that left nine people dead — both happened within the last five years.

“Having a plan in place can save your life and the lives of the people in your church,” Allen told the roughly 25 attendees. He advised congregations to post “No Gun” decals on their church doors in order avoid liability for injuries caused by gun violence in churches, even when inflicted by a non-member.

Like Allen, Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley stressed the importance of having an emergency plan — not just in the case of an active shooter, but also in response to a fire or power outage.

Talley urged attendees to create a trained security group in their congregations, and strongly opposed members carrying firearms.

“People get a license to carry a gun and think they are a police officer when they don’t have the training,” the chief said.

Dr. Carolyn Ransom-Champion, of the Urban First Responders program (an initiative of the Maywood-based United Faith and Christian Institute Bible College), urged attendees not to “walk to the other side of the street,” but to engage with victims of gun violence.

Urban First Responders trains people on how to respond to neighbors and church members who have been victims of violence. Registration for the initiative’s spring class is still open, UFCI officials said.

Champion, who lost her son to gun violence, said that she believes that the consequences of trauma can inspire victims of it to commit similar, violent behaviors if they are not treated.

Karen Saffo, who worships at United Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Maywood, said she felt inspired by Ransom-Champion’s talk about concerned care for trauma victims.

“I learned that there are criminals who need help, as well as their victims,” Saffo said. “We’re obligated to make sure that they are saved, in addition to doing their time, so that when they get out of jail, they don’t repeat the same things that put them in prison.”

Lorenzo Weber said he felt motivated by the conference to go back to Empowerment Church in Melrose Park, where he’s a member and church leader, and create a security plan and train the staff, “so we never have a situation like in Sutherland at our church.”

Dr. C. Calvin Rice, the pastor of Canaan AME Church in Maywood who helped organize the conference said that he can “now go back and make some changes in my own facility for the safety of the people and for the glory of God.”

Charles DuShane, a protective security adviser at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a former Secret Service agent at the White House, offered the following tips for how to stay safe to attendees at last Saturday’s conference:

  • Parents’ first impulse when there is a fire alarm or active shooter is often to rush to where their children are. That behavior, DuShane said, only makes things worse. It is much better for families to have a rehearsed plan that outlines what to do and where to reunite after fleeing an emergency.
  • When entering a public building, become aware of where all the exits are.
  • If you see something suspicious, call police.
  • Church leaders should hold a fire drill after the service one day, so everyone knows what to do in case of emergency.
  • Have a person designated to always have a phone and call 911 if something happens.

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