Local churches take extra measures to protect congregation

Worship institutions provide security training opportunities

By Garrett Hatcher | Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO, Ark. – On Monday, in Sacramento Cali., David Mora Rojas walked into The Church in Sacramento and killed his three daughters, Samarah Mora Gutierrez, 9, Samantha Mora Gutierrez, 10, and Samia Mora Gutierrez , 13, along with their court appointed chaperone, 59-year-old Nathaniel Kong, before killing himself.

Rojas had a restraining order at the time of the shooting, which did not allow him to see his children without supervision.  Currently, no clear motive has yet been discovered or confirmed.

Earlier this year, in Colleyville, Tx., 44-year old Malik Faisal Akram, a British citizen had taken a rabbi and three other hostages at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue.  Akram demanded the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui who was being held at Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth. After a 10-hour long standoff, the hostages were rescued and Akram was dead.

Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Photo by Garrett Hatcher

   According to an FBI database, in 2020 around 1244 cases of anti-religion hate crime incidents occurred in the United States with anti-Jewish crime having 683 incidents alone.  An earlier FBI report, stated crime against places of worship have surged by 34.8% between 2014 and 2018.

With increased crime against and on the grounds of many religious institutions, people of faith have decided are deciding be more proactive by taken preventive measures. In northeast Arkansas many churches have turned to the police and specialized training for protective measures and security.

   According to Patrol Sgt. Rodney Smith of Jonesboro Police Department some churches have contracted off duty officers to serve as “traffic control officers and figureheads of force” at local places of worship. Local churches such as First Baptist Church of Jonesboro, Journey, Central Baptist, First United Methodist Church, Highland Drive Nettleton Baptist Church and Southwest Church of Christ contract off-duty officers. The contracted officers are typically members of their respective congregations. JPD Police Officer Patrolman First Class Colton Brown attends Central Baptist and is one of the rotating officers for Sunday and Wednesday worship services. Smith said that Brown, along with the officers, are paid by their places of worships.

Don Blackmore, adult discipleship pastor at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro.

   Central Baptist takes their security a step further with more elements of security along with cameras and contracted officers. According Adult Discipleship Pastor Don Blackmore, the church may have up to six rotating non-paid safety teams made up of off-duty officers, former military, paramedics, doctors and civilian members of Central Baptist. Known as a safety team, the group also undergoes training by local instructors from JPD, Craighead Sheriff’s Department and Black River Technical College.

   “We try and prepare them for knowing what to look for, how to respond, how to deescalate and how to manage things properly,” said Blackmore. He said that the volunteers must go through periodic training before and after becoming part of the safety team.

   Central Baptist also hires the Stop the Bleed organization to train people to learn how to stop and control serious bleeding. Central Baptist volunteers undergo an extensive background checks and must fill out a questioner before being accepted for training.

Members attend service at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Photo by Garrett Hatcher

   “I don’t know if anyone takes it more seriously than we do. The safety of our congregation and making sure that we want to do everything we can to ensure a safe worship environment,” Blackmore said.

 “I don’t know if anyone takes it more seriously than we do. The safety of our congregation and making sure that we want to do everything we can to ensure a safe worship environment,” Blackmore said.

– Adult Discipleship Pastor Don Blackmore, Central Baptist Church

   As for how others feel about the safety team, Senior Adult Pastor Jay Jacobs stated, “I think they feel very safe also, our security team not only gets just people that come in, but also handle emergencies and when you see a team of people going to somebody’s aid, its makes us feel very secure.”

   Members also feel secure and support from the volunteers while in attendance. “Generally, I think most of the members appreciate the fact there’s greeters and we always feel very supported,” said Central Baptist member and volunteer.

   Fullness of Joy Ministries has a similar system when it comes to their security as they also have a volunteer training program. The volunteers are instructed and trained by a local police officer on what to look for and how to handle certain situations.

According to Pastor Adrian Rodgers the security volunteers are allowed to conceal and carry firearms. However, volunteers must undergo a background check and have a valid gun permit if they wish to conceal and carry at Fullness of Joy Ministries.

   “I think it’s sad that we’re in the place now where we have to have them, but I do understand that we are in the place where we have to have them, but I certainly do think it’s sad,” said Rodgers. “I certainly wish that we did not have them.”

   Religious institutions may have varying ways of defending and securing the safety of their members and institutions from manmade threats, but they all do pray for a day they won’t have to anymore. 

Note: Featured Photo shows JPD Patrolman First Class Colton Brown standing watch at Central Baptist Church in during worship service. Photo by Garrett Hatcher