FAIRFIELD COUNTY — The Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with local churches to devise and implement security plans.
On Tuesday, a FCSO and Church Partnership Breakfast was held to begin a dialogue in hopes of improving church safety.
“Church should be the place we can escape the evil that goes on in the world,” said Fairfield County Sheriff Will Montgomery. “We see now that we can’t.”
During the breakfast, members of FCSO provided advice, voiced support and answered questions from clergy.
Major Brad Douglas said in recent years, the FCSO has developed thorough shooting response plans with schools, and believes it would be prudent to work with local churches to create similar plans and become familiar with crisis response.
“Hopefully, this is going to be the beginning of a partnership between all of us,” Douglas said.
Douglas further added, FCSO has no interest in dictating what local churches do, but wishes to partner with and serve the community’s places of worship.
“We’re a service provider, we want you to know we’re here for you,” Douglas said.
FCSO Investigator Jeremy Ashford, who serves as head of Across All Boundaries Christian Church security team, provided some security ideas, as well as policies and processes he has found to be effective.
Ashford said, in his opinion, there needs to be a change in mentality regarding church security, as reverence for religion has waned.
“There used to be a reverence for God,” Ashford said.
Ashford said he believes, in previous eras, criminals were deterred from perpetrating acts of violence against churches by fear of damnation.
“He thought that doing something at the church would get him an express ticket to Hell,” Ashford said.
Ashford said forming a committee to develop a security plan, appointing members of a multi-tiered security team, working with any members of law enforcement in the congregation, allowing worshipers with concealed weapon permits to bring their weapons to church and communicating with the Sheriff’s Office are all possible positive steps.
“The only thing you can do that is wrong is nothing at all,” Ashford said.
Ben Colley, pastor for Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church, asked for further information about the pros and cons of expressing permission for members of the congregation to bring concealed weapons to church.
“I don’t want everyone to bring a weapon to church,” Colley said.
He noted in the event of a crisis, it is possible errant bullets could strike bystanders and criminals alike.
Ashford said it might be prudent to consider only allowing members of the congregation with a law enforcement background, or vetting the congregation to create a security team and encouraging the security team to seek further training.
“We’re not endorsing or not endorsing CWP’s (concealed weapon permits),” Douglas said.
In the event a church decides to create a security team, Ashford recommended selecting members carefully and considering a multi-tiered structure with more extensively trained armed members, vigilant members with less lethal force and young members of the congregating aware of security and crisis plans.
Jimmy Burroughs, director of Christ Central Ministries, said as a former law enforcement officer and current ordained minister, he was extremely pleased with the event.
“I’ve prayed for this for so long,” Burroughs said.
Burroughs said he was encouraged by the sense of fellowship and shared goals.
“This is the first time I’ve seen this many pastors together — unless they’re arguing about something,” Burroughs said.
FCSO encourages churches interested in more information to contact the Sheriff’s Office at 803-635-4141.
Reach Ben Hohenstatt at 803-635-4016. Follow him on Twitter @WinnsboroHerald