Local Churches Examine Security Needs
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The serenity and peace at a place of worship is no longer exempt from acts of violence. "He reached in and pulled out a .45 pistol and was coming down...to shoot it and someone jumped over a pew and knocked him down.” That attack, in the sanctuary, was more than 20 years ago for Central Church of God senior Pastor Loran Livingston.
Ever since, security has had a place on his church campus. Livingston says, "It's a shame, but that's the world we live in and you deal with it." Livingston deals with it by employing a full time security specialist. And, there are 27 security volunteers every Sunday. They also have a fleet of security vehicles.
On any given Sunday, about 5,500 people show up at the Central Church of God. That includes babies, teens and the elderly. While some may view security at church as unsettling, the staff says it's a gift to their congregation.
"Most times, the real threat comes from within, during the service itself,” says Peter Harlick, a security consultant. He says more local churches are requesting "security assessments."
He says, "The assessment ranges from lets look at the parking lot, let's look at the outside lighting, let's look at the visitor management, transient management, how do we handle the homeless to cash flow, how do we handle cash flow, do we have a safe on premises?"
Harlick's experience tells him churches, schools, homes are all becoming more attractive to criminals as retail stores beef up security. "The criminal is trending away from those stores and look at residential areas as targets,” says Harlick.
Livingston is surprised that there are still some churches without security plans. He says nearly every week, there is a disturbance on his campus, minor only because security is on hand. "Had the security not been here, what was small could have blown out of proportion,” says the pastor.
An author who studies church crime history has reported that in 1999, there were nine deadly force incidents in u-s ministries. In 2009, he says there were more than 100.