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Churches must plan to ensure safety

Profile image for Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial
Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial

Situational awareness -- surveying your surroundings for possible threats -- is a key element of public safety.

Shoppers returning to their car in a darkened store parking lot need to exercise situational awareness. Mass shootings in a movie theater and at public schools taught us that everyone needs an escape plan or a plan to shelter in place when the shooting starts.

These are sad times.

The shooting last month at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs killed 26 people. It taught us that a church service may entail much more than spiritual worship. Now, we must sit in pews and, between prayers and hymns, make sure we know which exit to take if shooting starts. The preacher must asses whether the lectern she stands behind is sturdy enough to stop a bullet.

More than 100 people turned out Wednesday for Shane Kizer's crime prevention seminar on church safety. Kizer, a Denton police officer, advised his audience that churches should establish a basic security protocol that creates expectations for the entire congregation.

What really intrigued us about Kizer's presentation, however, was how to spot someone with a grievance who, over time, might seek a resolution through violence.

Julian Gill, the Denton Record-Chronicle's police reporter, attended Kizer's presentation. In his story, he described the trajectory that might turn a congregant with a real or imagined grievance into a shooter.

"You really need to pay attention to that person," Kizer told the group.

If they become disturbed enough, potential shooters may move into the planning and preparation stage, which might include physical and/or mental training for the shooting. Finally, the shooter enters the "probing and breaching phase," including an analysis of security measures in place at the church.

"When you get to this point, it's about to happen," Kizer said.

Options then become limited. Potential targets can run to the nearest exit or hide behind solid cover. The last option is to fight for your life by attacking the shooter.

This is life in 2017. Church leaders must spend money on security systems and set up armed security teams of congregants who assume a pose similar to those Secret Service agents who guard the president.

But the churches must do what needs to be done.

What a shame.