SPD offers church safety advice

The Starkville Police Department recently held a church safety meeting at the department's community room (submitted)
Staff Writer

After last year’s Texas church shooting, resulting in the death of 26 people, the Starkville Police Department recently provided a church safety course on how to handle an active shooter or emergency situations.

SPD Public Information Officer Brandon Lovelady said for a church to proactively respond to an active shooter, they should form a safety committee and plan specifically for their church.

He noted it is hard to have a blanket plan when each church is different.

“A plan is essential to dealing with any chaotic event,” Lovelady said. “It should be specific to your place of worship. It should give considerations to children’s areas and other special needs.”

Lovelady said safety committees need to first familiarize themselves with applicable laws related to church safety when creating a safety plan.

Under Mississippi Code 45-9-101, a church or place of worship is prohibited with a basic concealed carry license. However, a church or house of worship is not prohibited with an enhanced concealed carry license.

The Mississippi Church Protection Act (45-9-171) was written to allow for churches to establish security programs to protect worshippers from violent felony acts, and allows for designated persons participating in the security program to carry concealed weapons for the protection of the congregation.

The measure provides immunity from civil liability if the action in question occurs during the reasonable exercise of and within the course of the member’s official duties as a member of the security team for the church.

According to the act, in order to qualify for immunity under this law, each participant must possess a valid enhanced concealed carry permit per Mississippi codes 45-9-101 and 97-37-7, the names of all participants in the security program must be listed in the minutes of the church or otherwise noted in writing at the time or their designation and the written record must be made available to law enforcement.

Lovelady said communication with law enforcement is vital during an emergency situation, and a designated person should be assigned to call 911. The person should be calm, cool-headed and as descriptive as possible.

“Whatever is going on, get a good description of the individual and what they’re wearing,” he said. “If there is a vehicle involved, get a description of the vehicle and a tag number if you can, so we know what to be looking for when we arrive.”

Lovelady said a description of security team members should be given to 911.

“You want to give a description of the safety team members and any medical information,” Lovelady said. “If you have anyone injured you want to give that information, too.”

Lovelady said another approach churches can consider is including medical equipment on site, such as tourniquets and compression dressings. He said security team members should also be aware of any doctors or nurses who are in the congregation.

In the event of an attack, Lovelady said security team members should have some way to identify themselves in an emergency situation, such as an arm band or vest, because security team members could be seen as a threat to law enforcement if they are not easily identified.

For church members who are not a part of the security team, Lovelady said the best response in an emergency is to either seek shelter or exit the building, depending on the threat and the situation.

“Try to distance yourself from whatever hostile activity is going on,” he said.

Lovelady suggests churches to hire professional training for their safety committees to practice their plans.