PIQUA — The Piqua Police Department reached out to the local faith comunity Monday evening by holding its first training session on active shooter events specifically for places of worship.
Transformed Life Church hosted the event, and Chief of Police Bruce Jamison of the Piqua Police Department said that between 60-70 people were in attendance.
“It shows how important this topic is to a lot of people in town,” Jamison said.
Jamison said that the police department has worked with the school system, factories, and other business to provide active shooter training and threat assessments, and they are now offering those same services to places in the local faith community.
People were most willing to change after the Sandy Hook massacre, Jamison said, in relation to schools. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting took place in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza gunned down 20 children and six adults.
“Now it’s really the shooting in Texas late last year that peaked the interest in faith places,” Jamison said, referring to the Nov. 5 mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people.
Jamison said that an active shooter incident is “very unlikely” to happen, but the police department recognizes that people have a fear of one taking place.
For those looking to take a proactive approach, there are ways to prepare and even work to prevent a dangerous incident.
“You need to put certain things in place make it work the best,” Jamison said.
Assessments that can be done
Along the lines of prevention, the police department can conduct vulnerability assessments for places of worship to help them identify policies and actions that can be put in place.
The police department can also conduct a threat assessment if a specific issue or threat is occurring.
If a threat would be made, the police department would investigate the threat to see if it occurred. In conducting a threat assessment, though, the focus would be on the suspect’s intent and his or her capacity to carry out the threat. For example, if there was a threat of gun violence, the police department would determine whether or not the suspect had access to a gun.
The threat assessment would also include looking into the background of the person of interest, the circumstances surrounding the threat or issue that possibly prompted the threat, whether the person had been acting in a way that suggested he or she was preparing for an attack, and so on.
“There’s certain behaviors that’s been common to many, many active shooter incidents,” Jamison said.
The police department would then determine the level of threat — low, medium, or high — and then determine their level of response to the threat. If the threat was high, Jamison said that the police department might take over. If the threat was low, he said that the police department might suggest ways to protect the congregation or the place of worship.
Jamison explained that they developed how they conduct threat assessments around a model provided by the Secret Service when the Secret Service is investigating threats to the president.
Policies to put in place
Jamison advised that there are a couple policies that churches and places of worship can put in place now if they have not already.
“We went through the importance of having an emergency plan,” Jamison said. He said that a number of churches’ insurance companies offer the church or place of worship their own emergency plans. “We’d love to know their plan,” Jamison said.
In knowing churches’ emergency plans, the police department is able to know what to expect should they need to respond to an emergency at that location.
Along those same lines, Jamison suggested that places of worship create a firearm policy. Jamison said that a number of churches have heard from members of their congregation who have permits to carry concealed weapons (CCW) who have offered security services to the church, e.g., bringing their concealed firearms to the church with them.
Jamison said that he did not have an opinion as to the best firearms policy, which can include excluding all guns, allowing some CCW permit holders to bring firearms to the church, or allowing all CCW permit holders to bring firearms to the church. Jamison said that it was up to each church to decide individually and that there were considerations with each of those policies.
“The church takes on liability for what that person does once they give permission,” Jamison said.
He also said that the CCW training is different from the types of training that law enforcement and military personnel undergo.
“This is a very tough decision,” Jamison said. “My challenge to the churches is to sit down and make this tough decision.”
Once that is established, Jamison said that the police department wants the church to share that information with them. That way, police will be aware of whether or not they should expect good guys with guns when responding to an emergency at the church.
Other policies that Jamison suggested churches should have include child protection policies, which can protect both the children if there is a daycare located at the church and the volunteers. Those types of policies would address items like the minimum number of volunteers required to be present during different times or situations and which places might be off-limits for children.
Run, hide, fight
The police department, through the local Protect Piqua program, also offered to conduct active shooter training at the individual places of worship, which would take into consideration the building’s structure.
For smaller churches, they would have one church host a number of the small congregations together for a night of training.
The basics of active shooter training include running away from the danger if possible, hiding and barricading if running is not an option, and fighting the assailant as a last resort. “If you can run away from it safely, do so,” Jamison said.
If that’s not possible and people have to hide, Jamison said, “Don’t just hide, barricade.”
Jamison said that if people are hiding during an active shooter incident, they should make their hiding place as safe and impenetrable as possible.
While fighting the assailant is a last resort, Jamison said that there are times that it is the only option that some victims may have. “If you’re going to fight, you have to commit to it,” he said.
If the victims in a mass shooting choose to fight the assailant, Jamison said he encouraged swarming the active shooter if possible. “There’s strength in numbers,” he said.
Those suggestions — run, hide, fight — give permission for people to do what comes naturally, Jamison said.
Jamison said that approximately 50 places of worship signed up for further information on these services. If a church or faith community would like more information, Jamison can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Sam Wildow at email@example.com