The class, “Security for Faith-Based Organizations,” was conducted by J&P Welch Law Enforcement Training and sponsored by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
“There’s a need for (this training). A lot of churches are concerned about safety,” class instructor Johnny Welch said. “What we’re talking about is being proactive instead of being reactive.”
Welch explained certain tactics and structural changes churches can implement in order to provide safer environments.
Some of those changes included installing security cameras, forming a safety team and situational training for those safety teams.
“Having guns in churches is a big topic. What we referred to today as ‘armed safety teams,’ we just want to make sure they’re qualified,” Welch said.
“Primarily, when we get into that (guns in churches) area, we are hoping the church has full-time law enforcement officers, retired military, people with handgun-carry permits and security guards with an active state certification. Those type of people can be on your armed safety teams.”
Saturday’s class included only a lecture and no hands-on activities. Welch said those activities, which he encourages, would have to be between churches and local law enforcement agencies.
The class has been taught by J&P Welch Law Enforcement Training since February.
Welch said he conducted online research and spoke with national experts on the topic of church security in order to teach the class.
“I’ve taught a Courthouse Security class and it’s kind of similar (to this class), but required some tweaks,” Welch said.
Graybeal said in a press release that members from faith-based organizations in Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee had all signed up to attend.
Tom Marshall of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Johnson City, and Larry Taylor, of Mountain View Baptist Church, both agreed they learned a lot during the lecture.
“It’s definitely good ideas for the church. I’ve got some military background,” Marshall said. “But dealing with the churches, it’s an eye-opening experience.”
Taylor said his congregation, which only consisted of around 300 members, was already implementing some of the security protocols recommended during the course.
“Things like locking all the doors except for one and having two of us during each service who stands out front and then rotate,” Taylor said.
It was quite noticeable approaching the church what the class was about as at least two police cruisers — with lights flashing — were parked around the perimeter of the building.
Walking inside the church, two deputies stood watch at the door requesting identification and a pass to enter.
The idea for the 8-hour class came about when local church leaders began contacting the Washington County Sheriff’s Office about security walkthroughs and breach checks.
After so many inquiries into the subject, Sheriff Ed Graybeal made the decision to offer a training class to inform church leaders of the necessary steps in order to “give everybody an idea of what they need to look for and how to set up security in a church without making it look like a fortress.”
On July 9, Welch will be teaching another Security for Faith-Based Organizations class in Knoxville. Anyone interested in attending can call 615-849-9150 or email [email protected].
Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP