South MS security expert shares advice on keeping churches safe

Published: Jun. 19, 2015 at 10:15 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 20, 2015 at 11:00 AM CDT
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GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - This week's tragic church shooting in Charleston is on the minds of many pastors as they prepare for service this Sunday. A security expert in South Mississippi has some advice for church leaders on how to keep their congregation safe. He said even places of worship have to be prepared for any crisis.

This Sunday, the pastor and his congregation at Grace Temple Baptist Church in Gulfport will gather at the altar. They will say a special prayer for those who are suffering in the wake of the fatal shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

"You would think you're safe there. You're not thinking violence or any kind of ill towards you, so I guess that's why I was really hurt," said Pastor Rossie Francis.

The pastor said his church already takes safety precautions, like having on-site security.

"We think we need to let it continue and just stay prayerful, watchful, alert to where we are," he said.

Dr. Tom Payne is an expert in workplace violence. He is urging church leaders to be prepared for any crisis, mainly violence, natural and environmental threats, and medical emergencies.

"We need to have people ready to respond, not only to armed intruders, but any other things that might occur, and they need to be designated beforehand," said Payne. "You don't necessarily have to have armed security, but you do have to have people that are designated as life safety people, who, if something happens, they take charge."

Just two months ago, Payne spoke at a seminar in Biloxi that focused on church security. The former USM Criminal Justice professor also shared some startling numbers regarding violence in churches. According to the FBI, since 1963, there have been more than 950-deadly assaults in churches, ending in more than 400-people killed. Payne said most church assaults usually start in the parking lot.

"Have cameras where you can see the problem coming. Simply lock the front door when you see it. Train up, prepare, and execute your plans," said Payne. "Statistically, churches are the safest place to be on Wednesday nights and on Sundays and it will remain that way. But that doesn't mean we have to sit by and do nothing."

Pastor Francis doesn't want the faithful to live in fear. He hopes the tragedy in Charleston will unite people in prayer and peace.

"We want to have wholeness, healing, and love and not grow hatred, hurt, and harm," the pastor prayed Friday.

Pastor Francis is organizing a community-wide prayer rally. He is hoping to hold it next Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at either the Coast Coliseum in Biloxi or Jones Park in Gulfport.

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