Pastors said after meeting with representatives from the Middletown Division of Police they left better prepared in case an active shooter enters their church.
The meeting between the police and church leaders was arranged by Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw on the heels of the Texas church shooting on Nov. 5 that left 26 people dead and 20 injured, making it the deadliest mass shooting in the state’s history.
During the 90-minute seminar Friday in Council Chambers, Lt. David Birk, Detective Brandon Highley and Sgt. Sam Allen discussed ways for churches to better secure their buildings and protect their congregates.
“It’s real out there,” Birk told this newspaper after the meeting that drew about 70 church leaders. “They need to be prepared. It’s about taking steps to save lives.”
Grace Baptist Church in Middletown already has taken some steps, said Senior Pastor Max Fernandez. He said the church has hired an off-duty Middletown police officer to monitor the parking lot and inside the church building every Sunday morning. The officer also assists with traffic, he said.
The church also has a “safety plan” that Fernandez said he would review with church leaders and members, based off the information he learned at the seminar. The end result is finding the best way to “better protect” the members, the pastor said.
After the Texas shooting, church members gathered and prayed for those impacted, Fernandez said.
“It’s natural to have fear and to think about the vulnerability of your congregation to an active shooter,” he said.
Until recently, before the church shooting in Charleston, S.C., in 2015 that killed nine people, churches were considered to be a “safety zone, said Allen, who said it was important for people to feel secure at church.
Muterspaw said the church shootings have been committed by the “wrong person with wrong attitude.”
Years ago, during an active shooting, police didn’t enter the building until at least four officers were present. But now the first officer is instructed to find and apprehend the suspect.
“Waiting is costing lives,” Allen said.
The church leaders were told to:
- Teach staff and members the proper way to apprehend a shooter and secure his weapon. Without training, employees may “freeze up” during an attack, Highley said.
- Find ways to secure doors, whether that’s with bars, locks, belts or heavy furniture.
- Instruct those under attack to run to the nearest exit and not hide in a corner or under desks. “The threat has changed,” Birk said.
- Create a “rally point” for congregates to meet after they escape an active shooter. They recommended neighboring churches sharing keys to their buildings, if possible.
- Put letters or numbers on every exterior door to make it easier for law enforcement to understand the layout of the building.
- Limit the number of entrances into a church so it’s easier to monitor who’s coming into the building.