- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

LAUREL, Miss. (AP) - One might sometimes think criminals wouldn’t target places of worship when it comes to the next crime. One would often be wrong.

The Jones County Sheriff’s Department is working to help church leaders keep their places of worship - and their congregations - safer from crime.

More than 100 people representing more than 40 area churches recently gathered at the Jones County Sheriff’s Department’s Training Center in Laurel to receive training and security tips.

Although the event had been planned beforehand, it was held less than a week after Aaron Haynes was captured after leading Jones County deputies on a 12-hour manhunt. Haynes was released from prison in November after serving one year of a seven-year sentence after being found guilty of burglarizing a church. At the time of his arrest earlier this month, he was a person of interest in two more church burglaries in the Hebron community.

Sheriff Alex Hodge said he is happy local churches “recognize that this is a serious matter. Sometimes we are criticized for saying too much. But people need to understand what is going on out there.”

The event covered the types of emergencies that churches should plan for, laws specific to churches, and whether and when to assemble a security team.

Maj. Jamie Tedford identified nine types of emergencies for which churches should be prepared. These included severe weather, structural damages, medical emergencies, accidents, bomb threats, criminal activities, criminal activities involving people, disruption of services, and acts of violence/active shooters.

Lt. Robert Little advised that these incidents can affect any church regardless of congregation size or resources.

Little said each church needs several copies of a file that contains copies of local fire, EMS, and law enforcement contact information; maps of buildings with exits and utilities clearly labeled; maps with alternate locations to meet for headcounts; insurance documents and contact information for the insurance company and “anything else that you feel is relevant.”

In the event that the individual church decides that they do want to form a security team, Little said a good ratio of individuals is two or three security personnel per 100 congregants. Of the security personnel, Little recommended that churches only need one armed person per seven to eight unarmed.

For example, a church with 500 members would need a security team of 10 to 15 individuals with one or two of them being armed.

The armed individuals can be “active or retired law enforcement or military personnel with fire arms training. They can be contracted or members of the church who are volunteering,” said Corp. Scott Sims.

Sims said larger congregations may be interested in hiring a private security force.

Armed security personnel will need to have fire arms training and the appropriate permits, Sims said.

Sims said the sheriff’s department offers active shooter training classes for church groups.

Little said churches should ensure that they have adequate alarms and cameras on their church properties as well as “adequate lighting and fencing.”

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Information from: The Chronicle, https://www.thechronicle.ms


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