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Law enforcement talks church security

As a son of a preacher, Sheriff John Whetsel spent much of his childhood at church. The house of worship was a safe place, as long as he didn’t get in trouble with his parents.

“About the only weapon I ever saw in church was a belt, and that was far too often,” he said.

But times have changed, Whetsel told a group of parishioners, Tuesday night during a presentation on church security at Eastside Church of Christ. A rise in mass shootings, attacks on police and terrorism have dominated the headlines and left many searching for answers.

“Sadly, we and every church have to prepare for the very worst and hope that nothing happens,” Whetsel said.

Whetsel and other law enforcement leaders provided information about how to increase security at places of worship and what to do in the event of an attack during a two-hour meeting.  Representatives from the FBI, Oklahoma City Police Department, Homeland Security, Midwest City Police Department and the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department spoke at the event.

Kurt Stoner, FBI agent, spoke about active shooters and mass killings. He said it is difficult to profile an attacker because they come from all backgrounds, races and lifestyles, but said there are often warning signs. In about 80 percent of these crimes, at least one person had some type of information about what the attacker was thinking about or planning, Stoner said.

“If you know something, say something,” he said. “There are ways to report it without that person knowing.”

Stoner later outlined the “run, hide, fight” strategy in the event of an active shooter. The first and best option is to run to a safe place away from the shooter. If running is not an option, Stoner said to try to hide in a safe place and keep quite. The last final option is to fight the attacker using any means necessary.

“Use tables, chairs, fire extinguishers, belts, whatever you have,” Stoner said. “Give it all you got.”

Maj. Bill Weaver, Oklahoma City Police Department, talked about state firearm laws, particularly the Self Defense Act. In 1995, the state legislature passed the Oklahoma Self Defense Act, which allowed residents to carry a concealed handgun. The law was changed to a handgun license in 2012. Weav

Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel discusses ways that churches can improve safety of their parishioners Tuesday evening during a forum at Eastside Church of Christ. (Staff photo by Jeff Harrison)

Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel discusses ways that churches can improve safety of their parishioners Tuesday evening during a forum at Eastside Church of Christ. (Staff photo by Jeff Harrison)

er said there are about 257,000 handgun licenses in Oklahoma and about 13 million nationwide. The state law also allows businesses and churches to restrict handguns from their property.

Glenn Moore, with the Department of Homeland Security in Oklahoma, talked about how the department works to improve security. The steps include; building relationships, developing a plan to keep employees and customers safe, train staff to deal with threats, and reporting suspicious activity.

Capt. Greg Wiplif and Lt. Joe Warner of the Midwest City Police Department also spoke at the workshop. Wipfli outlined the rapid response used by law enforcement in the event of an active shooter. Warner spoke about how law enforcement handles suspicious packages.

Whetsel was the final speaker at the event. He encouraged handgun permit holders  to regularly sharpen their shooting skills, and asked church leaders to develop a security plan for their congregation.

Herman Hagan, a retired sheriff’s deputy and Eastside Church of Christ member, helped organized the event after seeing a similar presentation earlier this summer at the Oklahoma City University School of Law. He invited churches in eastern Oklahoma County to attend the event. Nearly 200 people attended the event.

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