Religious Leaders & Violence

Protecting the flock requires action during new violent times in our places of worship

By: Tegan Broadwater, Founder & COO - Tactical Systems Network, LLC – July 8, 2015

A lone gunman commits a pair of shootings killing three at a Jewish Community Center in Kansas City. A White Supremacist enters a predominately African-American attended church and murders nine worshippers. ISIS continues to murder people standing by beliefs outside their own and now is making fervent efforts to recruit within the United States. Know this; More incidents are to come in light of recent events.

Twenty-five years ago, places of worship were widely considered out-of-bounds by even the worst criminal element. Today, opportunities are too great to pass up. A welcoming and open environment becomes something by which criminals take advantage. Data associated with deadly force incidents and suspicious deaths at places of worship in the U.S. increased nearly 6x over the last decade.  

NO MORE EXCUSES

Tactical Systems Network, LLC provides executive-level security consultancy and personnel, emergency management planning, protection personnel and investigative operations to enhance clients’ places of worship. The reasons given to us by religious leaders for not utilizing proper security operators, consultants or police, hold no water – especially in this crime-ridden climate.  Here are a few many have expressed:

(a)   “I can handle myself” – Properly securing your worship environment has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not one can “hold their own” in a confrontation. The goal in a properly secured environment is to avoid confrontations. This provides a safe environment for leaders to concentrate on their message and for worshippers to worship freely sans the concerns for their environment or children.

(b)   “God takes care of us” – To this perplexing answer I typically ask; “Do you wear a seatbelt when you drive?” The answer these days is invariably, yes. Without delving into what God thinks, I suggest that God has blessed certain people with the ability and skillset to protect a house of worship. God has also placed said people in front of the leadership for consideration toward working together in good faith to protect what has been so carefully built.

(c)    “It costs too much” – Cost is relative. Consider the expectations of your constituency. Most worshippers feel safe under what is referred to as a “False sense of security.” They assume there is something in place that in fact is not. Therefore all the “responsible spending and benevolence” in the world is in vain if an incident occurs within your organization that could have been prevented. Also, remember the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” This stands true and is something that must be presented to your decision makers with security professionals laying the foundation for building safety and security program budgets.

(d)   “Those types of incidents do not happen here” – As mentioned above, the culture of keeping places of worship sacred has died. Now with the influx of criminal and terroristic opportunists, we must take heed and responsibility to protect congregations, leaders, our children and the buildings we erect welcoming others to safely worship. We asked an expert with a view of both sides to comment on this issue. Greg Lewis, currently a security industry professional working in religious and corporate protection with a background in ministry responded succinctly; “As someone who has worked in vocational ministry and now the private security industry, I can say with certainty that the threats are real and the times have changed. Proverbs 24:6 speaks clearly about the battle and the necessity for good counsel. All of our best efforts could be wiped away with a single incident that could possibly be prevented. The liability in these uncertain times is too great to ignore.”

In today’s environment where terror, crime and violence prominently ride the front pages, it has become more important than ever to address intelligent ways to protect our institutions of worship, their leaders, their followers, and their funds. Taking responsibility is something these organizations often attempt, but fail to achieve due to a lack of crime and security industry knowledge within their group of decision makers.

See beyond what YOU want. Your responsibility is to your organization. Here are FIVE key considerations to keep your organization off of a criminal target list:

MISUSE OF VOLUNTEERS

Most organizations utilize volunteers. It is a financially responsible way to enhance the worship experience and provide ways for followers to participate and contribute toward the better good. Securing and providing a safe worship environment must be a primary consideration. It is also something not inherently designed for volunteers. Volunteers inherently provide three weaknesses to a security program:

(a)   Inconsistent presence - they are not paid and therefore often are not consistently present. In order to truly execute a safety and security program, there first must be accountability.

(b)   Lack of licensure – They are working illegally in many states and cause additional liability should even a minor incident occur.

(c)    Lack of operational integrity – Many volunteers assigned to “security” or “safety” teams have experience in municipal or federal law enforcement or military. But just look at how much deliberate effort it takes for these professional agencies to communicate and you quickly realize that providing an integral protection operation requires much more than guys with experience in making arrests. One person’s past experience can even destroy a chance for successfully thwarting a criminal event if not vetted and streamlined through professional planning and practice. Knowing what you can and cannot legally do while keeping the best interest of your organization in mind is paramount. We too often see best guesses made and empowerment given to those with past experience in a semi-related industry. We all appreciate our dedicated law enforcement and military personnel. I was one myself. We have to look at the importance of this issue realistically though and not justify shortcuts.

Additionally, we strongly advise against utilizing off-duty police personnel who work security on a volunteer basis. Always pay them and coordinate your expectations through their respective department. Not doing so could result in significant liability to your organization since neither the officer’s department, nor their police associations will take financial responsibility for their actions without proper approval beforehand. This is not to be confused with welcoming off-duty police officers to worship with your congregation. As long as they are not assigned to anything security-related in a volunteer capacity, they can and will use their training to act according to their sworn duty and assist in responding to a criminal act on view. 

It is not all bad! In fact, volunteers are fantastic assets when properly utilized. Here are some advantages:

(a)   Volunteers have your best interest at heart! Make sure they are briefed on safety concerns and receive information and education on what to look out for while they perform non-security duties. They are fantastic eyes and ears.

(b)   Volunteers are servants of God. A worship environment is more sensitive than almost any other. Typical security operations often fail because of a lack of sensitivity to the goal – which often is to counsel those that would normally be made to leave a secular place of business. Let your volunteers become part of the safety program by bringing representatives from your organization to a person of concern that your security personnel might have detained. Allow them to be a part of the process in determining how to handle volatile people on your property and then let professionals handle the actual enforcement.

APPLY PROFESSIONAL WISDOM

Many well-intended staff members gather and try to establish security protocols and emergency plans. However, part of becoming wise is acknowledging what you don’t know. Invest smart funds into a vetted security consultant, preferably with an understanding of your faith and goals. DO include your staff of facilities managers, HR directors, deacons, pastors or rabbi’s. It is essential that the security professional work with you to ultimately present a plan to match your specific culture, goals and desires. The whole process should be educational for both parties. No one knows your organization like you do. But no one in your organization knows the industry like an integral consultant whose reward is contingent on the plan’s effectiveness.

Contract with a professional security firm or police department to be present on your campus during most of your vulnerable and well-attended events. Utilize your volunteers if you so desire, to provide “eyes and ears” and then train them to call your security team to respond. There is a huge difference between observing and acting. The cost of placing a well-trained enforcement entity on site is minimal in comparison to tasking volunteers with these duties and risking major lawsuits or criminal prosecution for assigning illegal/non-licensed security personnel.

EMERGENCY PLANNING

Putting a plan into action is different than putting together a plan. Now that we have established that the best plan includes you, your staff and a security professional, work toward practicing scenarios and assign either your security team or a staff member to ensure the people designated to execute important duties during your emergency are updated, educated and still employed! I cannot tell you how many client plans we have reviewed that have personnel assigned tasks that have not even worked with the organization in a long while. A good plan on paper is only that – on paper.  Review yours regularly. Your security team should be willing participate and assist you with this process as needed.

Verbalize scenarios with your security team and staff. Ensure bases are covered and when you reach the issues that are not resolute in your plan, address them again with your professional to add it to your list of solutions.

LIABILITY CONSIDERATION

The one most important thing that we see ignored more than any other is the consideration for liability. One might suggest that it is not an example to be followed – especially within a religious organization – to exist in gray areas or attempt to circumvent the law to cut costs. Ensuring that your contracted security or police professionals are vetted is your primary step toward separating you from liability. As long as you verify that your security team or consultant is properly trained, insured and licensed, the rest lies with them! Although anyone can be sued these days, many security firms will agree to add your organization to their insurance policy and cover your attorney fees if you are sued. Then they take the brunt of the liability for their actions on your behalf. That is how it is designed.

It is also more advantageous to avoid in-house security personnel. Your liability grows when the onus is on you. Consider having to remove someone from your property for some reason. How will it be perceived when those shoving this screaming perpetrator out the door have a patch on their sleeve with your organization’s name on it? Not good. Who does the perpetrator go after for complaints, continued drama, negative media, lawsuits, etc? You. Avoid this approach and separate liability and protect your brand. Consult your insurance carrier and attorney for more specific concerns you might have.

Any effort you make could be futile if you have a major lawsuit to contend with after an incident occurs, so make your efforts stick; Hire the professionals to do what they do so you can focus on ministering to your congregation. We also always recommend our clients retain experienced counsel to assist in composing a strong written policy to deal with wide-ranging issues from dealing with a security incident to the non-compliance of staff or congregants.

COMMUNICATION

The key to effectively putting together a fantastic plan and keeping it growing along with your organization is communication. We always recommend to our faith-based clients that they allow us to maintain lists of people that cause concern to them and us, and that we monitor while on site. We refer to this list as a P.O.I. (Persons of Interest) list. It consists of people who perhaps act strangely, suspiciously, dangerously or are criminals with intentions unknown. These people are not always criminals. In fact they are rarely criminals. This is why we recommend our clients let us keep this profile list so they do not wind up with pie in their face over an inadvertent discovery made by a member that they are on this list.

We also monitor social media, crime statistics, provide investigative intelligence and train our client’s staff to improve their intuition regarding these concerning individuals or groups.  Sharing this very sensitive information is where your organization comes in. Dedicate an internal point of contact and have them communicate regularly with your security team and your HR staff to strategically decide what security intelligence and information needs to be disseminated and what must be kept in house. These decisions are important as you want to be responsible and relatively transparent, but you do not want cause unnecessary panic among your constituency. That defeats the purpose of having your plan so responsibly placed and enacted.

In light of terrorist expansion and cultural changes we are experiencing throughout the U.S. and all over the world today, it is imperative religious leaders make the responsible decision to move forward with a true security operation to protect our institutions of worship – The shepherd must protect the flock.

Tactical Systems Network, LLC staff is available for consult on these and any other important safety & security considerations. Call our office in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, USA at (817) 332-9944, or reach out via our website at www.TSNLLC.com. Our professionals can assist you with handling these decisions responsibly or to locate reputable agencies equipped and trusted to provide services in your area.

About the Author: Tegan Broadwater is the Founder & Chief Operating Officer of Tactical Systems Network, LLC (TSN) – An executive-level security and investigations firm in Fort Worth, Texas. TSN’s clients range from Fortune 100 companies to private wealth individuals, schools, religious institutions and businesses. He is an ex-law enforcement officer and the author of “LIFE IN THE FISH BOWL, The true story of how one white cop infiltrated and took down 41 of the nation’s most notorious Crips.”

www.TSNLLC.com

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