Knoxville Police Department offers help for churches wanting to improve safety

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Churches are supposed to be a sanctuary from violence, but after several shootings, including a shooting at a church in Middle Tennessee on Sunday, many religious organizations in the Knoxville-area have had to increase security measures.

Knoxville Police Sergeant Shane Watson, who teaches active shooter training courses, said it doesn’t matter where you live or the size of your congregation, an active shooter situation is a real possibility. Sgt. Watson says having a security plan is key and can save lives. He says most police departments and sheriff’s offices, including the Knoxville Police Department, offer training for congregations or advice on how to form a safety plan.

During active shooter training, Sgt. Wilson recommends a three-step method. He says step one is to run and get help.

If that’s not possible, step two is to hide. Sgt. Watson says lock doors, barricade a room, turn the lights off and silence your cell phones.

“A person doing this kind of assault is trying to hurt as many people as they can, as quickly as possible, because they know the police are coming. And ultimately they get to a locked door, they’re going to keep on going to the next one,” said Sgt. Watson.

If you’re confronted with the shooter, step three is to fight. Sgt. Watson says freezing can get you hurt.

“There’s no reasoning with this person. There’s no way talking your way out of this,” said Sgt. Watson. “You need to be prepared to take anything you can like a fire extinguisher, a laptop, whatever you have at your disposal and do all that you can to survive.”

Knoxville churches review security plans

Most Knoxville churches say they have some kind of security plan, ranging from ushers being watchful to having full-time security guards or law enforcement on site every Sunday.

In 2008 there was a shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. After the shooting, church members say they visited other churches to talk with them about what type of security precautions they have in place. The church found many churches lock their main doors to their worship space during services or have people who arrive late to services check-in with an escort.

On July 27, 2008, two people were killed and six were injured when a man started shooting inside the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

“You don’t want to go into a place and have fear. I think as long as you’re comfortable and you’re aware of what’s going on around you, you’re gonna be okay,” said Elnora Williams a member at TVUUC.

Williams adds the church also started utilizing greeters at every entrance, that way anyone that seemed suspicious or out of place would be immediately recognized.

Related: Middle Tennessee church shooting brings memories for Knoxville church member

Pastor Daryl Arnold with Overcoming Believers Church says his congregation relies on their faith and the power of prayer, but also has security measures in place.

“The Bible calls pastors shepherds and so shepherds have two responsibilities. One is to feed the sheep and that’s what God gives us the word of God for, but sometimes we’ve got to have a rod and staff in case a wolf comes into the fold,” said Pastor Daryl Arnold with Overcoming Believers Church.

Pastor Arnold said his church has had a security plan in place for years.

“We have what we consider armored bearers, those are people who really watch over our entire congregation just to make sure nothing happens and then we have trained security,” said Arnold.

Bishop Richard Stika with the Knoxville Catholic Diocese said the shooting in Middle Tennessee was tragic and and unfortunate display of violence that has become all too common.

“I have always conveyed to our pastors a need to be aware and diligent in making sure our sacred spaces are safe, and that they also remain open for anyone who chooses to come for worship and prayer,” said Bishop Stika.

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