Kearney churches quietly strengthening security

July 15, 2018

KEARNEY, Neb. (AP) — Mike Roggie listened to the news. He listened to the radio. He knew that protecting his First Baptist Church congregation from a sudden shooter had to be a priority.

“I began to get serious about this,” said Roggie, director of children’s ministries at First Baptist for 10 years. He formed a committee to draw up procedures for a shooter incident and other emergencies.

On March 15, the Kearney Church of Christ invited trooper Noah McNeese of the Nebraska State Patrol Training Academy to present the state’s Civilian Response to an Active Killer Event program. The room was packed even though the two-hour program ran 30 minutes longer than a regular Wednesday evening service.

“It had been nagging me for a while to start these discussions,” said the Rev. Greg Clark. “I would feel badly if something terrible happened and we hadn’t talked about it.”

The Kearney Hub reports that the threat of active shooters in churches has been simmering since June 2015, when a gunman killed nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Last November, a shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killed 26 people.

In response, Kearney churches quietly are beefing up their security, but few will talk about it. More than 20 churches were contacted for this story, but only a handful responded. The number of area churches that have security plans in place for such an event cannot be confirmed.

Kearney Police Sgt. Derek Luke confirmed that churches are being proactive. Without naming names, he said he has helped seven to 10 churches map out and strengthen security procedures, not only for active shooter events, but for fire and tornadoes as well for “all kinds of issues,” he said.

“Church security isn’t a whole lot different from school or business security,” he said.

Kearney eFree Church was one of the first to get on board. A dozen years ago, it hired off-duty, but uniformed, police officers to be present during worship services. In 2012, the church’s Elder Board expanded the officers’ presence, “but the impetus for reviewing and strengthening our on-site security was really led by our children’s ministry directors, Derena Danube and Patrese O’ Brien,” said eFree lead pastor Adrian Boykin.

Luke, who is a member of eFree, echoed that. He said friends there knew he had been a school resource officer at Kearney High School. They began approaching him about various security issues, especially keeping the children’s areas safe.

“People came to me asking for my help, but it quickly became a team effort. I told people, ‘We have to have a team.’” He also referred people to church conferences where security issues, and similar matters, are presented.

Boykin added that churches can be seen as “soft targets.” He said, “We cannot control much, but we are responsible to do what we can to help ensure the safety of men, women and children who attend Kearney eFree on Sundays. An armed officer in combination with a well-thought-through security plan is one way we can help protect people from physical harm when they enter our doors for worship. The presence of an officer won’t stop all, but it is a likely deterrent for some.”

Roggie agrees. An emergency medical technical for 10 years when he lived in New York state, he knows the critical value of emergency plans and procedures.

For security reasons, Roggie declined to be specific about the plans being discussed at First Baptist, saying only, “Before an incident happens, we want to take care of any threats before they become active situations.”

He said safety is a priority at the new First Baptist Church that is being built out of the structure at the old Kearney High School. Tentatively set to open early in 2019, the new church will include a locked children’s wing, among other precautions. “We’ll be very secure in the new facility,” Roggie said.

The Rev. Joe Hannappel, the priest at St. James Catholic Church, said the church board and safety committee are being “proactive” in addressing the risk of shooters.

“We want our parishioners and guests to be welcomed and feel safe in our place of worship,” Hannappel said.

Without going into specifics, he said church safety procedures have increased in recent years “because of incidents across the country.” He also said the church is implementing procedures in these areas. He added that more alarm systems and security measures were put in place during a church renovation project in 2015-16. Church leaders talked with the Grand Island Diocese and other church and security experts in formulating a safety plan.

At the Kearney Church of Christ, Clark sees church security as a priority. First was the March 15 program, where, he noted, teenagers asked different questions from those posed by 35-year-olds. Security is a relevant issue for everyone, he said.

On May 7, Roggie invited leaders from five area churches to talk about security issues. “Everyone was somewhere on the range of being prepared,” said Clark, one of those in attendance. That preparation ranged from brief outlines to extensive plans already put in place. In talking about that meeting, Clark repeated a phrase used by Boykin: “soft targets.”

“Bad things seem to happen in places the media calls ‘soft targets,’” Clark said. “We wanted to figure out how to not be a soft target, yet, remain true to our mission of loving every person. That goes hand in hand. We greet every visitor and make them feel welcomed. That greeting is our first line of defense.”

But, he said, other issues came up, too, such as how many churchgoers know CPR and how many medical professionals worship there who could assist in an emergency.

Roggie echoed that. He wants to be sure safety procedures exist not just for shootings, but for other emergencies, including fires and tornadoes.

That goes for eFree, too. Boykin said the officer there has assisted the medical response team with medical emergencies.

“These fine officers have also helped our staff develop emergency response procedures in the event of an intrusion, fire or tornado. Beyond active shooter crises, their focus is on providing a warm, safe, clear presence to regular attenders and guests who join us on Sundays.”

Hannappel added: “Our compassion and prayers go out to those who have suffered greatly by the gun violence in our country. I personally hope that by working together, progress will be made toward curtailing this and other forms of violence. Finding ways to prevent acts of violence that cause so much harm and fear to so many people should be a high priority.”


Information from: Kearney Hub, http://www.kearneyhub.com/

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