Church security during riots and civil unrest
DISCLAIMER: This post is NOT political. Please keep reading.
What a week it has been. Unless you've been living under a rock, you have probably been bombarded with news of the killings of unarmed persons of color at the hands of police officers. And, I'm sure you have seen coverage of protests and riots around the U.S. in response to those killings. But, like our disclaimer says, this post is not political. This post is not about Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter or All Lives Matter. This post is not about racism or bad cops or good cops. This post is not even about whether your church should address these current events or whether your pastor should preach on social justice or current events. (If you want to know how we feel personally, buy us a cup of coffee and we'll talk one-on-one). This post is about additional church security considerations during times of civil unrest.
We see two cold, hard facts as they relate to the current civil unrest that America is experiencing.
#1 - Churches are no longer "off limits" when it comes to the effects of protests, rioting, and looting. There was a day, not too long ago, when even criminals, delinquents, and other ne'er-do-wells would not dream of committing nefarious acts directed at or on the property of churches and other places of worship. There was an understood "hands off" policy when it came to holy spaces. That day has passed.
#2 - Churches must decide if they are going to actively engage in social issues. Currently, that most prominently involves increasing racial tensions, renewed allegations of systemic racism, and violence associated with those claims. (We will not postulate or spend time here arguing about reports of who is "really" committing the violence. Different people have different views. Remember, our "not political" disclaimer?). Regardless of whether the church chooses to address these issues head-on or decides to ignore them and remain out of the socio-political sphere, there will be security-related consequences.
To the first point, the protests and riots have spread across the country. Even though the last incident that seemed to ignite the powder keg was the killing of a black man in Minneapolis, virtually every city of any size has seen some form of protest or gathering. Major cities such as Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas have seen violent clashes for several nights. Even smaller cities and towns have had marches and gatherings and their own protests. Hundreds have been arrested and scores injured. Businesses have been looted and police precincts set ablaze. And, yes, even churches have been the victim of property crimes. Windows have been broken, property has been vandalized, and church possessions have been stolen. An historic church in Washington, D.C. was even set on fire. Your church MUST be physically secure. This is sometimes antithetical to church leaders' understanding of the mission of the church or downright foreign to those who still believe "it can't happen here." Well, it can and it will "happen here" if your facilities are not secured. Basics such as adequate lighting, trimmed shrubbery, and properly installed, sealed, and locked windows and doors can be a tremendous deterrent to criminal activity on your property. More active measures like security cameras and alarm systems are also great deterrents. Finally, the physical presence of uniformed law enforcement or security guards can provide enforcement capabilities to your layered security approach. Remember, that off-duty police officer isn't just for Sunday mornings anymore. Consider hiring a night guard or a peace officer to work an overnight shift to keep an eye on your church. Good lighting + a hardened target + electronic measures + a human enforcement presence = good layered security practice and great insurance against criminal activity.
To the second point, pardon my non-churchy language, but here you may be "damned if you do and damned if you don't." If your church chooses to be actively involved in addressing social issues, you will make people mad. If your church chooses to remain silent on social issues, you will make people mad. Unfortunately, a major fact in America today is that too many people let their politics inform their religion instead of letting their religion inform their politics. There is not a right or a wrong side to this debate. There are just different sides. Before your church decides what to do or not to do about social issues, you really need to take a hard theological dive into the topics and make a decision that is based on your understanding of Scripture and the mission of the church in the world. From a security standpoint, you need to prepare for whichever decision you want to make because either decision could bring violence and threats of violence against your congregation, pastor, and facility. There have been reports in recent days about police using chemical agents and less-than-lethal munitions against church staff and protest organizers who were using the patio / courtyard of a church to stage medical supplies and a triage area for people injured during a protest in a major city. Church leaders, after careful theological consideration, had made a decision to assist protest organizers and to use their church facilities to assist those injured during the protests. This brought the ire of counter-protesters against the church and resulted in police using force against volunteers and church staff on church grounds. This is not a scenario that any church every wants to encounter, but it is the reality of churches choosing to live out their mission in the world. The point here, from a security perspective, is to be ready for the consequences of taking certain actions. You can't just decide to support the civil disobedience or remain silent and not expect someone to be angry at the church. You can't choose to speak out against racism or to defend persons accused of racism and not expect someone to be mad at the church. And, like we iterated in point #1 above, when people get mad at the church, they no longer feel a moral obligation to let that anger go and not carry out some action against the church. The ultimate point here, if your church chooses to engage or to not engage the current political and social realities in America, be ready for the consequences. Protect your church facilities. Protect your staff. Protect your members.
These are troubling, confusing, and sometimes dangerous times in which we live. Each church is called to a unique mission in the world. Whatever that mission is, protect yourself and your church.