Local News

NC houses of worship stepping up security

Posted December 21, 2015

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— Following a mass shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church last summer and heightened tensions over recent terrorist attacks in France and California, North Carolina churches have turned to law enforcement agencies for help in ensuring their congregations are safe.

The North Carolina Sheriff's Association is urging churches, mosques and other places of worship to take extra caution during the holiday season and has issued training materials statewide to protect them.

Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin, who heads the sheriff's association, said requests for security training started pouring in after the June shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston that left nine parishioners dead. The training materials cover everything from forming a church security team to having weapons in the church.

"How to confront a shooter in the church, what to do when suspicious people are coming into the church, how to protect the pastor or the head person in the place of worship, how to exit, lockdown procedures, everything you can think of in security," Peterkin said.

Rev. Cureton Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church on Moore Street in Fayetteville, said he and his administrators have already taken some steps to ensure the safety of the 1,200-member congregation.

"Every year, our officers make me practice an evacuation plan at the end of a worship service, and we have a scheme that we use to empty people out of the church," Johnson said.

He said the church has followed another recommendation of the sheriff's association by forming a security team.

"Look for retired military, active military, law enforcement in your congregation, retired law enforcement in your congregation," Peterkin said. "We ask them to do that because these guys have been trained over and over again how to deal with threats."

Sheriff's offices across North Carolina are identifying individuals in their departments who can conduct safety training for churches, he said.

The recommendations apply to all churches, no matter the size, he said. Some, such as installing cameras and other video security systems, which First Baptist has done, can be expensive, but Peterkin and Johnson agree that keeping parishioners safe is priceless.

"We want to be able to do the Lord's work, and it's important to have a safe environment," Johnson said. "We're in the sanctuary now. Sanctuary means a safe place."

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