Authorities, church members talk church safety ahead of Christmas holiday

Authorities, church members talk church safety ahead of Christmas holiday

FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The Florence County Sheriff's Office held a public church security forum for places of worship Wednesday morning at the Florence Center.

The main goal of this forum was for church members to find a balance between a secure and welcoming church.

FCSO leaders office decided to hold the forum in the wake of the shooting of the Emanuel AME church in Charleston and, more recently, the First Baptist Church in rural Texas.

"They need to have a plan in place to welcome people and notice if they have a stranger showing up," Glen Kirby, chief deputy with the Florence County Sheriff's Office, said. "They still need to welcome them in church, but they also need to be aware of their surroundings and ready in case something happened."

"You would think that the church was a secure location," Dominic Owens, pastor of Risen Christ Church, said. "You would think that no one would try to come in and try to harm anyone as it relates to the church. Times have changed."

According to a presentation at the forum, this year to date, over 200 deadly force incidents and 110 deaths have occurred at places of worship.

With the holiday season falling on Sunday, Kirby said church security is important now more than ever.

"That's why we tried to get it done before Christmas, because we know the Christmas season, if there's somebody planning something, we just wanted them to know and get it out as quick as we could," Kirby said.

Locking doors, restricting access once service has started and securing areas around the church are some ways to help make sanctuaries safer.

"The more education and the more training you have, the better results you will get and of course at the end of the day, we all want to be safe and have our kids and our families safe with us," April Lyerly, a member of Mill Branch Free Will Baptist in Johnsonville, said.

Kirby said the FCSO will conduct church security assessments for anyone who wants one. All they have to do is contact the sheriff's office.

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