What can church safety and security volunteers learn from tragic incident in LA?   To quickly summarize, an incident in Los Angeles at a Burlington Coat Factory on Dec 23, 2021,  ended up with not only a suspect dead but also an innocent 14 yr old girl dead.  Here’s a link to a news article – 

What lessons and teaching points can we draw out of this tragedy and apply it to a church setting?   People with mental health issues or cognitive disabilities come to church all the time, and will stand out for their quirky behavior just like this suspect did in LA.  What can church staff and volunteers do differently, if anything?  First of all, start with a ministry mindset.

Not everyone who comes to church who acts different and quirky are up to no good, in fact I would say the vast majority of them are simply looking for God, but no one is going to know that until someone walks up with a smile and greeting and makes contact.  The suspect in this incident spent several minutes walking around, acting bizarre, with no one approaching him or making any type of contact with him.  In a church environment, someone should be approaching to make contact, whether they are church ushers, greeters or security.  Upon that initial contact the church personnel will have a much better “feel” for the subject and can then make a more accurate decision on what to do next, such as leave them alone and just keep an eye on them, or have them sit down and spend some time in a one-on-one conversation with a deacon, or pastor, or other church leader, or whatever the case may be, every situation and person is going to be different and you MUST assess and reassess the situation before you!

What can church safety and security volunteers learn from tragic incident in LA?   Let’s say that the subject becomes violent like in this incident before any church personnel can make contact, or even after contact is made, then what?   How do civilian volunteers at a church react and respond?   Isolate him in an area of the church by clearing everyone out of the area as what happened in this incident?  Tackle him?  Shoot him?  Distract him until police arrive?

Once the person started acting violent towards property, it is time to call the police to get them started before someone gets hurt!  Avoid making direct contact for your safety, and with your colleagues work on isolating the person in one area if possible.  Teamwork among church staff and volunteers in this type of situation is critical.  While you or a your fellow church volunteer try talking to the person to attempt to de-escalate and distract them, other staff and volunteers can be assisting by having people vacate the area, while someone is on the phone with 911, and REMAINS on the phone to continue to give up to date intel and information to responding officers!  There were a high profile incident at a church here in West Michigan about 5 years ago, which pretty much started out exactly like the tragic incident in LA, with a person acting “bizarre”, who then became violent towards property before ultimately trying to attack a church staff person.

Church staff and volunteers should always be assessing and reassessing the situation before them, especially when interacting with a “quirky” person, and maintain a good reactionary gap.  If the situation begins to go off the rails, disengage and break contact, get away from the person and put more distance between you and them!  Unless there is someone in IMMINENT DANGER of great bodily harm or death, break contact and wait for the police to deal with it!  The police are the ones with the training and equipment AND local, state and federal backing to deal with such a situation!  If THEY handle it wrong, that’s on them, but YOU are not expected to get any more involved or risk life and limb as a civilian volunteer!

But if the situation calls for you to draw your weapon, you still have responsibilities to adhere to and follow BEFORE you use it, such as being sure you have a safe background! Unfortunately, the situation in LA ended with such a horrific tragedy, there are no guarantees.   Church volunteers at church are not expected to risk life and limb for the church, so do NOT make rushed decisions!  Slow down, slow down, slow down!  And oh, in fact, in the police videos of the incident you can clearly hear officers calling out to each other and to the officer with the rifle to SLOW DOWN!   So, if police officers are taught and trained to SLOW DOWN, why would civilian church staff and volunteers be any different?   Time and time again I have seen situations mishandled because of rushed judgements and rushed decisions!

What can church safety and security take away from this tragedy?   (1) Make an effort to approach and make contact with people who catch your attention, the people who are “DLR” (Don’t Look Right), and be sure to have a big smile and friendly greeting when making contact.  (2) Maintain a good reactionary gap, do not crowd around a person.  (3) If the person becomes violent or more bizarre in their behavior, call the police, and clear the area of other bystanders and innocent persons.  (4) Isolate the person in an area if possible.  (5) Be very hesitant to go “hands on” or draw a weapon unless you can say that someone was in IMMINENT danger of great bodily harm or death!  (6)  Take long, slow, deep breaths to stay calm and continue to assess and reassess the situation as it evolves!

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