Houston Police are speaking with area pastors on how to keep their congregations safe after the mass shooting at the Sutherland Springs church on November 5 that killed 26 members.
The meeting inside Houston Police Officers Union headquarters on Tuesday morning focused entirely on one theme: having a plan. Experts on active shooter situations said awareness is the key to increasing one’s chances of survival.
Dr. George Perry, Pastor at the Greater Lighthouse Church of God in Christ, said he came to the meeting to get ideas on how to strengthen his security plan at his small Southeast Houston church.
“Times are changing in our world, so we have to be aware of what’s going on,” said Dr. Perry. “What should we be aware of? How can we secure the premises? What should we look for in a person’s characteristic?”
Parking lot security and active shooter survival were among the topics covered.
“We study every one of these, and they always come across the parking lot,” said Jimmy Meeks, a retired police officer with 35 years of experience across Texas and Oklahoma who has been teaching church security since 2009.
Meeks, who spoke at Tuesday’s event, believes the first line of armed security at a church should be in the parking lot.
“That could serve as a deterrent,” said Meeks. “You don’t want a shootout to have to occur in the foyer of the sanctuary.”
One controversial debate following the Sutherland Springs mass shooting has centered around whether to allow church members to carry guns inside the sanctuary.
“We have urged pastors and congregants who are licensed to carry to have them on,” said Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastor Council. “The key though is ‘trained.’”
However, Stephen Daniel, HPD’s expert on active shooting defense for civilians who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, worries more guns inside of a church could lead to innocent people accidentally getting hurt or killed.
“One of the best things (churches) can do, quite frankly, is to have two able-bodied people on each side of the aisle on the very back pew of the sanctuary,” said Daniel. “If somebody comes in who’s obviously hostile with a weapon, their first job is to tackle that person and get ‘em on the ground.”
If the shooter makes it past that layer of security, Daniel recommends following the ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ model.
“But, if you’re in the middle of the sanctuary, running probably is not gonna be a real option, so your best bet is just to get down,” he said.
Joseph Gamaldi, President-elect of the Houston Police Officers Union, said Tuesday he believes Houston got a wake-up call over the weekend about the likelihood a church shooting could happen locally.
“You think ‘That won’t happen in my community,’” said Gamaldi. “Well, it almost happened in our community the other day.”
On Sunday, Gamaldi says Keanu Randolph, 20, walked into a Northeast Houston church with a loaded gun, threatened parishioners, and threatened to kill the deacon and rape his wife.
Randolph was taken into custody without anyone getting hurt. However, Gamaldi was upset at the $7,000 bond given by the judge, which only requires Randolph to post 10 percent.
“For just 700 dollars, this individual could be back out on the streets, and he lives right around the corner from the church,” said Gamaldi.
Stephen Daniel, HPD’s active shooting defense expert, says the department provides free training anywhere within the city limits at no charge. The department has also posted an hour and a half-long training video on their YouTube page.