Registration is under way for the Church Safety and Security Program scheduled for Thursday, May 17, at 7 p.m., in the auditorium of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, located at 120 Henry Pkwy., in McDonough.
The program was introduced by Henry County Sheriff Keith McBrayer in 2009, and quickly became popular. It has been implemented in places of worship throughout the county, and the state of Georgia. Law enforcement agencies across the country also have copied the effort, according to McBrayer.
“Years ago, nobody even locked a church building,” said McBrayer. “Now, we are having situations where computers and televisions are being stolen from churches after hours. You also have situations where an estranged spouse shows up at a church to try to take a child that might be in a Sunday school room or nursery.”
The training sessions offered by the sheriff and his staff are designed to prepare religious leaders and administrators to handle emergencies. The safety training includes preparation for natural disasters, as well as crimes, ranging from theft, to violent behavior, McBrayer said.
“Part of this class will help provide the [churches’] security team information to implement securing measures in a discreet manner, and help identify vulnerable areas within the church,” said David Foster, chief deputy for the Henry County Sheriff’s Office.
Safety programs are customized for individual churches, including discussions on how members should react. There will also be instruction on what to do when intruders enter a place of worship unexpectedly.
“A 2,000-member congregation is going to be different from somewhere that has 15 members in church on Sunday,” said Sheriff McBrayer. “But the whole point is that we feel they need something in place to prepare them, if they are ever confronted with an emergency. We feel that churches need to have some type of plan, no matter what size they are. This information will also help their members to better plan for emergencies at home.”
The Church Safety Program is available to any Henry County house of worship at no cost.
Reed Benson, an instructor of the Church Safety and Security Program and senior chaplain for the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, said he discusses a variety of safety and security issues, including evacuating the building, church insurance, background checks on people working with children, medical emergencies and other concerns.
Only a select, few members of any church congregation are permitted to carry weapons inside a place of worship, according to Benson. “Until the state legislators revise the current gun law, only certified law enforcement officers are allowed to carry guns in places of worship,” he said.
According to Foster, since the inception of the program three years ago, some officers have joined church security teams. “A lot of churches take advantage of off-duty officers that are members of their church and utilize their training and expertise as part of their church security team,” he said.
For more information about the Church Safety Program, call Sheriff McBrayer at (770) 288-7101, and to reserve a seat for a training session, call Lisa Keller at (770) 288-7127.