Tragedy Highlights Need for Church Security

The November church shooting in Sutherland Springs that left 26 dead and 20 more injured put a renewed spotlight on security.

It’s an issue area houses of worship had been quietly preparing for.

“We’ve recognized for a long time that the security and safety of our members and their children are vitally important,” Temple Emanuel executive director Rick Rosenberg said.

While the temple has had formal security for decades, the events of 9/11 motived its leaders to take additional action in hopes of preventing violent attacks.

They work closely with Dallas police and the Anti-Defamation League to develop strategies and share relevant information.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas enlisted the services of a former secret service agent to assist multiple Dallas-area Jewish congregations.

“It’s a continuous re-evaluation,” Rosenberg said. “I don’t think we are ever done. It’s constantly evolving.”

The message is much the same at other places of worship across the Park Cities and Preston Hollow. Park Cities Baptist Church employs a full-time security director who works with church leaders and outside security experts to keep the congregation safe. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas has a crisis management plan that can be deployed at any of its parishes in the event of an emergency.

Those efforts are in addition to action taken by the individual churches to deter threats.

“We have extra staff on Sunday mornings and evenings that make rounds and act as an additional presence,” said Maria Farrell, assistant to the pastor at Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

Law enforcement is involved with many congregations. Police have been trained to handle active shooter situations, and often work in conjunction with church officials.

Dallas Police spokesperson Debra Webb said extra officers aren’t typically assigned to churches. However, police at individual substations are usually in contact with officials at congregations within their jurisdiction.

“The officers are generally aware of what’s going on at the churches in their area,” she said.

The police working traffic when churches let out are usually off-duty officers working a second job.

“We have off-duty University Park police and [Dallas County deputies] frequently,” Highland Park Presbyterian Church spokesperson Zack House said. “They are a lot more than just security guards; they have really become a part of our church family.”

Several years ago, the church created a safety team to help prepare for events like a mass shooting. Since then, church members have worked with an outside safety consultant, and participated in a safety audit with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Those steps are just part of what churches have to do these days to make sure families feel safe when they worship, House said.

“We don’t want them to have anything to worry about,” he said. “We want to make church a place of refuge and peace.”