Church members, law enforcement pack forum on protecting places of worship

Nearly 200 people participated in a forum on protecting houses of worship in Jefferson City on March 8, 2018 (Ashley Zavala/KRCG).

Federal, state and local law enforcement hosted a seminar Thursday night in hopes of continuing a discussion about safety in places of worship.

"I'm not here to scare you to death," Cpt. David Hall said to the crowd in his opening remarks. "We're here to hopefully give you some information tonight that will open your eyes," the member of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.

Members of the FBI, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Cole County Sheriff's Office, Jefferson City Police Department, and Lincoln University Police Department were on hand. The panel of investigators explained different scenarios churches have seen over the past few decades, including incidents of violence, sexual assault, arson, robbery, and fraud. According to the panel, there have been 1,687 deadly force incidents in places of worship between 1999 and 2017.

Ken Hines, an FBI Intelligence Analyst, told the crowd about the church shooter in Charleston who killed nine people in 2015. He said community members need to let authorities know when someone says they plan on making a threat.

"Sometimes, they'll post things on social media, or they'll tell somebody. Dylann Roof, the guy from Charleston told his friends, and they didn't bother telling anybody. 80% of the time these goofballs tell somebody what they're going to do," Hines said.

Members of the panel made several safety suggestions for places of worship. Overall, law enforcement urged church leaders to establish an emergency action plan.

Nearly 200 church leaders, church goers and members of law enforcement filled a large, multipurpose space inside of the Missouri Farm Bureau Insurance Building. Jefferson City Police Cpt. Doug Shoemaker said about 180 people RSVP'd to the event.

Shoemaker said congregations will choose to approach safety differently, but, he said, it's important to have the conversation.

"Jefferson City, Cole County, this region is certainly not immune to those types of things happening," Shoemaker told the crowd.

The FBI has several tips and resources here.

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