Sheriff’s Office helps churches improve security

Darlington County Sheriff Tony Chavis and his Chief Deputy Joshua Edwards and Captain Mark Campbell spoke to local religious leaders about ways to keep their congregations safe.
Photo by Samantha Lyles

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

Citizens, pastors, and church leaders packed the Darlington Middle School cafeteria on Monday, November 20 to discuss how churches can protect their congregations from the threat of an active shooter.

The forum, staged by the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO), offered guests a chance to ask questions and get useful ideas for church security. Sheriff Tony Chavis joined with his Chief Deputy Joshua Edwards and Captain Mark Campbell to express the department’s willingness to help churches gird themselves against the burgeoning threat of gunmen invading houses of worship, especially in light of the recent church shootings in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

“We are just a couple of years removed from our own massacre at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina,” Chavis said, adding that he felt the need to bring together his staff and local citizens to share ways law enforcement can help prevent or mitigate active shooter events.

“With the great number of churches in Darlington County, there is no way that your sheriff’s office can put an armed officer at all of the churches…however, that’s why we don’t advise against armed security. We don’t advise against having one of our officers come in on off-time,” said Chavis.

He noted that DCSO deputies are allowed to work security jobs in their off hours and – for $25 per hour – a deputy can be posted at a church to keep watch during services. Chavis also suggested that since many churches in the county are in close proximity to each other, they could pool together and hire an officer to patrol two or three churches.

Chavis added that officers are welcome to park their patrol vehicles outside churches during services, just to give notice that a law enforcement officer is present.

Campbell invited any interested church, civic group, or business to contact the DCSO to arrange for an active shooter training session, which could help prevent an event or lessen the severity of an active shooter attack.

“Active shooter events don’t have to be to the magnitude of what we’ve seen,” said Campbell, adding that the DCSO’s training session will provide attendees with the latest law enforcement strategies.

“The program that we will teach from is from Texas State University. It’s called the ALERRT (Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training) program, and it is the national curriculum that every law enforcement agency in the United States has gone to,” said Campbell.

The 2.5 hour program focuses on three basic concepts: Avoid, Deny, and Defend. Campbell explained that the ALERRT strategy advises avoiding or escaping an attacker as the first priority. If escape is not possible, deny them access to victims by barricading yourself in a safe place. Should the attacker discover your hiding place, the last line of defense is to fight back.

“The last resort, when we have no other option, we will defend that position,” Campbell said.

Campbell added that churches can contact the DCSO for a security survey, which includes an on-site evaluation of weaknesses at each facility and suggestions for how to improve safety and security.

Guests were cautioned that if they do opt to secure their churches using members with Concealed Weapons Permits, they should make sure those CWP holders are well-trained and practice safety, marksmanship, and security drills regularly. Chavis said that any church wishing to use the county’s firing range at Lake Darpo should contact the DCSO.

Author: Duane Childers

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