Police train local worship leaders for attacks

Posted at 6:59 PM, Sep 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-27 18:59:26-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--Police says most people likely don’t think it will happen to them.

They don’t think they’ll become a victim while in the middle of a worship service.

Richmond local law enforcement experts are working to make sure clergy leaders are preparing their members. They want people to be ready just in case a criminal sees a window of opportunity and decides to take advantage of it.

They’re the images people can hardly forget- a gunman with links to Neo-Nazi groups storms a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, murdering six people.  Closer to home, a man brings a BB gun that looks like a handgun to church, scaring people in a Colonial Heights congregation.

These incidents, in addition to the recent shootings at the Washington Navy Yard and Sandy Hook, are on the mind of Richmond Police officer Kimberley Cheatham-McClarin. She also serves on her church’s security team.

“The church is a place where people come to and bring their hurts. They need to be safe while they’re in church. Pastors need to be safe as well” Cheatham-McClarin added. The RPD officer knows that dozens of area pastors who attended a safety forum are used to being on the other side of the microphone sharing a word with worshippers.

This day, they’re on the receiving end, taking tips from the experts on how to react if there’s an active shooter situation in their place of worship. The group also discussed how to firm up emergency evacuation plans and ways to safeguard money taken in during offering.

Lt. Michael Stith works for the Richmond Police Department. He’s also an ordained minister at Rivers of Life Evangelistic Outreach Church. He sees Friday’s Worship Safety and Awareness Forum as a proactive measure to help churches make safety a top priority.

“Criminals look for soft targets. They look for crimes of opportunity, like the eighty-six year old lady who laid her purse on the seat while she was praising and not paying attention. Something like that is when you might have an incident.

When you see a situation getting out of hand your church team should be able to spot that right away. You should have pre-planned exits. You should be talking about that” Stith said.

More than one hundred ministers, pastors and other religious leaders attended Friday’s Worship Safety and Awareness Forum.

Experts say the real work begins once the forum is over and worship centers create or strengthen their safety plans and share the plans with members.