County debates church security in the wake of Texas tragedy

By BRIAN GRAVES

Posted 11/7/17

While the Bradley County Commission's only business was a school playground Monday night, the majority of the conversation revolved around Sunday's church shooting in Texas.Discussion revolved around …

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County debates church security in the wake of Texas tragedy

SHERIFF ERIC WATSON, center, assists during a firing range class. The sheriff has announced the next set of church security training opportunities next year will include firearms training.
SHERIFF ERIC WATSON, center, assists during a firing range class. The sheriff has announced the next set of church security training opportunities next year will include firearms training.
Contributed photo
Posted

While the Bradley County Commission's only business was a school playground Monday night, the majority of the conversation revolved around Sunday's church shooting in Texas.

Discussion revolved around what is already being done, and what could  be done in the future, to help churches in Cleveland and Bradley County protect their congregations and facilities.

Commissioners quickly approved allowing residents in the area of Valley View Elementary School to construct a new playground and pavilion area on the adjoining five acres owned by the county.

The residents will raise the funding and the school board will continue to provide upkeep for the area.

However, the Texas tragedy weighed heavily on the minds of commissioners and was prominent in the opening prayer led by Commissioner Bill Winters.

News reports say the shooter had a history of domestic violence, was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force, and was apparently going after members of his estranged wife's family who sometimes attended the church.

Commissioner Dan Rawls said it would be naive to think such a thing could not happen here.

"That was a rural community that was attacked by someone who had traveled 35 miles to go after a rural community," Rawls said.

He said most of the larger churches in bigger municipalities have security teams in place.

Rawls said he spoke to Cleveland Police Chief Mark Gibson and wants to get volunteers to "donate their time" to take an FBI training course on such situations.

"[The chief] has offered to provide that training to anyone who [can] donate a Sunday and sit in these churches and make sure our rural communities are safe," he said. "You can't expect the police to do this. There is too much ground to cover."

Rawls said there would be a "small vetting process" for anyone who wants to volunteer and those interested can contact him.

Commissioner Charlotte Peak noted the Bradley County Sheriff's Office has been offering a couple of meetings a year that are open to area churches "to try to get them organized and tell them what they need to do."

"For the rest of this week and next week, [Sheriff Eric Watson] is meeting with the Baptist association, other associations and other church organizations," Peak said. "Hopefully, they will participate in that as well."

Commissioner Mike Hughes, who works with the BCSO, said as far as he knows the department has had such a program "for several years."

Asked by Rawls, Hughes said it incorporated the FBI training, "as far as I know."

"My preference would be we all take the same course from the same individual," Rawls said. "I don't care where you get it. But, I think once you commit to it, it's something you are obligated to do."

Watson later confirmed his department has already scheduled another church security class from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16, at the BCSO on Blythe Ave.

The class is free of charge for any and all churches to attend, and the presentation will "assist church leaders and congregation members in making their place of worship a safe and peaceful place of worship," according to Watson.

Watson said he will also be announcing next year's church security trainings that will not only be in a classroom setting, but will include interactive firearm and close-quarters combat training.

"Over the past three years, the sheriff's office has held numerous meetings with area churches to help prepare for an act of violence should it ever occur at their facility," Watson said. "Our agency's program is designed to help churches recognize the importance of ensuring a plan is created in order to deal with an active hooter situation."

The sheriff added that the BCSO has a continuous program which allows area churches to have their facilities assessed for security vulnerabilities in addition to training to set up a security team or improve an existing security team.

Those interested in the BCSO's programs can contact Public Information Officer James Bradford at 423-728-7320 or by email at jbradford@bradleycountytn.gov.

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