Local nonprofit offers security and safety training for churches

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SOUTH SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) -- After attacks on places of worship in New York and Texas during the last weekend of 2019, local agencies have been warning churches big and small that they need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

That’s why the Sacramento Law Enforcement Chaplaincy is running a free safety and security class for those institutions to become more secure.

Saturday night, five people were stabbed in New York state after a machete-wielding suspect busted into a rabbi’s home during a Hanukkah celebration.

Sunday morning, two people were killed after another suspect opened fire with a shotgun during a service at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, near Fort Worth. That gunman was shot and killed by parishioners who were armed themselves.

“It is increasing. There’s more shooting in churches than in schools,” said Mindi Russell, executive director of the Law Enforcement Chaplaincy.

Russell said the two attacks should serve as a reminder to churches everywhere to be prepared.

“Every time there’s something that goes on in some city, in some county or in some state, that we really actually push out to our churches locally that we can come and help them be aware of how they can turn their church that might be a soft target to predators to a hard target,” Russell said.

Russell said her organization offers free one-hour consultations to churches around Sacramento County.

With the church's permission, Russell said she will often go undercover and visit beforehand to see how prepared the church is.

“The last church I walked right up on the stage, went behind, counted to 15 and walked back down and nobody ever challenged me. Shameful, shameful,” she said.

For a fee, Russell offers training for church staff and congregations to teach them how to watch for red flags from visitors they don’t know.

“If they come in and they don’t have children but they’re going 'where’s the nursery,' they don’t want to be seen very much, they have a hoodie on or a hat down they’re kind of closed in," Russell explained.

Russell said churches often assume smaller congregations will never be a target, which is false.

“Most of the churches are medium-sized to small,” she said. “Fifty percent of the attacks are random, so that means you can’t gamble on that.”

Beginning in January, California is set to release up to $15 million in funds for institutions and organizations at risk of hate crimes, making them eligible for up to $200,000 for enhanced security upgrades like an alarm system, reinforced doors and gates, and security guards. State officials said the number of organizations set to receive the grants won't be available until the funds are released.

 

Ashley Zavala contributed to this report.

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