It has been nearly six months since a gunman shot and killed nine church members in their Wednesday night Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Ever since that night, some Lowcountry churches have been increasing security measures. Now, Bluffton Police are teaming-up with the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) to hold a seminar on how local houses of worship can be more safe and secure.
Just days after the Charleston shooting, Pastor Jon Black at Campbell Chapel AME Church in Bluffton began implementing security stops.
“Church should be a place where you can come and be safe, but there are no guarantees,” Black says.
Black experienced grief, shock and denial in the days after he lost his friend and church’s former pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney. He was in disbelief something so violent could happen within sacred walls. He says it’s difficult to be welcoming of visitors and on-guard for suspicious behavior.
“The sad thing is, no one wears a sign,” he says.
Black does have volunteer security teams, staff trained by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), and electronic security devices. The church doors are locked at certain times, and monitored while open.
But Black compares the early days after the shooting to current times, realizing there is still vulnerability.
“The awareness of how vulnerable we are has escalated over the days,” he says, “and we realize that all we’ve done hasn’t really moved the needle much.”
That’s where Bluffton Police want to change things. They are holding an open meeting for local church staff, together with ASIS.
“We’re going to look at the probability of the threats and hazards occurring,” local ASIS leader Jim McGuffey says. “We’re going to discuss security counter-measures. Security counter-measures involve policies and procedures, well-trained personnel, and technology.
Police want churchgoers to feel safe and want to offer security survey, too.
“We’ll actually have officers come out to the church, walk around the parking, you know, speak to the leader of the church, ask how do you vet new employees,” police spokeswoman Joy Nelson adds.
Black’s church will attend, but he still puts most faith in prayers for safety.
“All the training in the world can’t read a mind or a heart,” Black says.
The church security meeting will be held at Bluffton Police Headquarters on Wednesday, December 16, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. To sign-up, email Jim McGuffey at firstname.lastname@example.org.