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Safety expert Rick Arrington is an elder of the Rocky Mount Church of Christ in Virginia.
Safety expert Rick Arrington is an elder of the Rocky Mount Church of Christ in Virginia. | Photo by Teresa Arrington

Elder focuses on improving church safety

Rick Arrington spent more than a quarter-century as a police officer, retiring as a lieutenant.

‘We have practiced what we teach.”

That’s Rick Arrington’s motto for preparing churches and businesses for safety against all kinds of preventable threats.

Rick Arrington

Rick Arrington

Arrington is a professional security consultant, trainer, published author and retired police lieutenant who serves as an elder of the Rocky Mount Church of Christ in Virginia. He has focused his expertise in protection from violence on church safety since 2013. A former Army military policeman who specialized in crowd control, he heads the Crime Prevention Center for Training and Services, based in Hardy, Va.

For 26 years, Arrington served the Roanoke Police Department in Virginia in a variety of roles, culminating in his last position as a lieutenant commanding a zone of the city. He since has worked with the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services as the crime prevention programs manager.

He regularly presents seminars related to safety in churches and faith-based organizations. In 2015, he published “Securing the Faithful” (Sunset Institute Press) for faith-based organizations.

What are the risk factors that make any church vulnerable to a shooter?

The first factor to consider is the probability of a particular type of event, such as a robbery or a shooting event. For example, statistically speaking, robbery is the primary cause in church-related deaths, followed closely by domestic spillover and personal conflict. These three make up 56 percent of the deadly shooting incidents at churches, according to the Faith Based Security Network, a nonprofit that tracks this data.  

A church located in a high-violent-crime neighborhood is more vulnerable than one in a low-crime community. One near a downtown location is more vulnerable to certain attacks than a rural church, simply because of the proximity to homeless and substance-abuser populations. Immediate proximity to an interstate represents a quick escape route, and thus this location is also left unprotected and is vulnerable to robbery.

The final factor that one should examine is the impact of a violent shooting event on the church. Impact is not only measured in terms of property damage but also in terms of the shooter’s motivation, the number of persons harmed or killed, the potential for media coverage and notoriety, and the harm to the mission of the church and cause of Christ.  

What are the main things a church can do to ensure safety against shooters?

I am adamant that we can protect the assembly through planning, procedures, training and implementation of a safety team. In short, if church leadership is opposed to arming a safety team, much can still be done to protect the congregation. I work with elderships to achieve safety. If I could only implement a few things for safety, they would be:

“I am adamant that we can protect the assembly through planning, procedures, training and implementation of a safety team.”

1. Appoint a safety team leader to oversee and coordinate monitoring, reporting suspicious behaviors and drafting procedures for addressing such behaviors. 

The safety team should be trained in identifying suspicious behaviors and in plans to address the behaviors or to locate themselves in close proximity to a possible but not obvious threat to react quickly. The team should be aware that its role is simply to isolate the danger from the church; they are not police. 

For example, if a person they are addressing runs out the door, then once they are out, secure the door and call the police.  

2. Ensure the parking lot is monitored before services, during services and prior to releasing the congregation to exit. Again, according to FBSN statistics, about 75 percent of shootings at churches occur outside the building. In my years of teaching faith-based security seminars, I found that few churches address the exterior. I found even fewer that addressed the exterior after services.    

3. Secure the building. Although this sounds like something that can’t be done, it is one of the best things that can be done. We advocate using greeters trained in identifying concealed weapons and unusual behaviors that may then be closely scrutinized and other measures to be taken to protect the congregation. This measure goes hand in glove with the training of a safety team.  

Can you point to biblical principles that can guide a church in its efforts to be safe from gun and other violence?  

Absolutely. Some Scriptures give us direction for safety measures that God authorized and in which men took the lead. In Acts 12:13-16, we see the disciples behind locked doors.

In John 20:19, we see doors locked on the first day of the week when the disciples came together, for fear of the Jewish leaders. A week later, Jesus appeared before the disciples, and the Scripture in John 20:26 says, “although the doors were locked.”

As for the need or use for weapons, the Scriptures address this also, but I believe that this is a decision that must be made by the local elders. 

There are many factors to consider that I am constrained to address due to space limitations. An example for protection in the Old Testament is found in the rebuilding of the wall in Nehemiah chapter 4:15-23, where the enemies had attempted to stop the work, and the threat was known and steps taken for protection. God did his part, but the citizens also had a role.  

Some states allow carrying concealed weapons. How does that affect church efforts to protect its members?

As of 2018, only Nebraska and Louisiana outright prohibit carrying concealed weapons into a church. Most states’ attorneys have indicated that it is the church that may prohibit carrying firearms into the building.

Another concern many overlook is the issue of friendly fire during a shooting incident. That is to say, a visitor who is legally carrying a concealed weapon intervenes to assist when a criminal shooter is engaged by an armed church safety team, but the team now sees and reacts to what they view as two hostile shooters. The eldership must decide if the safety team will be armed, and if so, what standards they must meet. 

To what degree should churches protect activities other than Sunday?

The short answer is that we must protect the minister and staff as well as worshipers. Implementing a means for those seeking benevolence, other than showing up at the building unscheduled, provides some safety. Protecting financial indicators from all except the congregation, and ensuring that the minister and other users of the church other than during the Lord’s Day’s worship and Bible studies, are just as important. Any church event also should be addressed through planned safety measures, and some safety team members should be present, if possible.

About 62 percent of the shooting incidents at faith organizations occur when no churchwide event is occurring. This is directly linked to the fact that the No. 1 triggering event is robbery, followed by domestic spillover.

Filed under: Church of Christ church security Dialogue Features guns in church Opinion

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