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In wake of recent shootings, local church hosts safety workshop

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Detective James Brown with the Winterville police department talks to a crowd about church safety at Winterville Baptist Church Monday evening.

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By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”

Winterville Police Cpl. James Brown set the tone of at a church safety presentation by reciting 1 Peter 5:8.

The presentation took place on Monday at Winterville Baptist Church, and was sponsored by the Winterville Police Department.  

“Right now if someone were to come in and start shooting, which way would you go?” Brown asked audience members. “In the past, we would've never thought of churches as being the victims. I know growing up in this church and playing outside on Wednesday night, we werent worried about someone snatching kids off the church property or anything like that.”

Area pastors, along with church and community members, watched video clips of news coverage on recent church shootings followed by a powerpoint presentation by Brown.

Brown focused on how churches should manage internal and external risks.

“Are we inspecting the people who work for us?” Brown asked.

Many churches only conduct background checks on employees and fail to screen volunteers — from the bus drivers and sunday school teachers to the nursery workers. And that's something Brown said needs to change.

“Everyone should get a background check,” he said.

Brown added that it also is imperative that church security teams know about domestic violence protective orders members may have against spouses or significant others.

When it comes to external risks, Brown emphasized practicing crime prevention through environmental design. This includes things like outdoor lighting, landscaping and high-quality security cameras.

“I handle computer and phone forensics and commercial businesses don't invest the money for good-quality surveillance,” Brown said.

He cautioned, however, that having expensive lighting and security cameras is only part of the solution to keeping churches safe.

“Train church members to be observant and prepared,” Brown said. “Don't leave valuables in your car. When you see things out of place, don't be afraid to tell a church staff member or call the police. If it looks suspicious, it probably is. See something say something.”

When planning events, Brown stressed the importance of designating areas for such events and preventing access to certain areas of the church while the events are taking place. He said most thefts occur due to the ease of access to facilities.

“When you're pre-planning events, we don’t want you to create an environment where it feels like you're walking into the Pitt County Detention Center, but you should be having parking and traffic control and be barricading event spaces,” Brown said. “Churches are prime targets for criminals due to the open nature and easy access and limited security measures of most churches.”

Social media safety is another concern. Part of Brown's work involves investigating child pornography cases and dealing with sex offenders. He said churches need to exercise caution when posting pictures of youth on social media channels.

“Pitt County currently has 316 registered sex offenders and 17 live in Winterville,” Brown said. “You have to be careful about what you're posting.”

Aside from security measures, churches should have staff members trained in CPR and first aid and have AEDs and first aid kits readily accessible. Brown also suggested that churches establish escape routes in case of emergencies.

Daniel Burris, pastor of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, said the event allowed pastors to see how houses of worship can be improved.

“We are kind of responsible for making sure that our people can come to church and be in a safe space and worship in a manner where they dont have to be afraid or worried about what might happen,” Burris said. “You want to be proactive as opposed to being reactive. Getting to work with the police department and having things to consider whether its background checks or things associated with the building, it's good to be here to kind of hear what things we are doing well and what things can we be improving upon.”

Anthony Wesbrook of Winterville Christian Church said he learned valuable information about safety.

“I think this is a wonderful event in light of the church shooting in Sutherland, Texas and recent school shootings,” he said. “It's important to inform ourselves as pastors so that we can inform congregations that we are serving about church safety, security and things to be thinking about.”

“Crime does not exclude the church. Churches also face increased presssures to provide a safe and secure environment for its members while also maintaining a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. That's the hard thing for us to do is to be secure, safe and have the right balance,” Brown said.

For more information and to schedule a safety presentation, contact Brown at 756-1105 or email him at James.brown@wintervillenc.com.

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com and 252-329-9566

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