Security becomes priority for churches in New River Valley

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GILES CO., Va. (WDBJ7) Churches in the New River Valley are putting a renewed focus on safety during worship.

The recent church shooting in Texas has caused more houses of worship to call law enforcement agencies for training to protect congregations.

Churches are requesting tips to stay safe and they're wanting to use resources they already have available.

Churches are trying to find a happy-medium as they continue to open their doors to the community, but also keep an eye on who's coming inside.

"It just teaches you how to react," said Captain Scott Moye, with the Giles County Sheriff's Office.

Active-shooter training isn't new for houses of worship in Giles County, but Christian leaders are buffing up their security measures now and enforcing new ones. Many have called on the guidance of trained deputies at the sheriff's office.

"One of the things we talk to our churches about is how to recognize suspicious behavior or suspicious folks as they're coming into your church that starts with training your ushers," Moye said.

Giles County deputies visit churches and train leaders how to notice threats and react.

"One of the best things about this training is that it's a conversation starter. It's gets people to think about it and talk about it," Moye said.

Tod Burke, a former Maryland Police Officer and current Radford University Criminal Justice Professor, warns too much security could give the wrong vibe to people interested in worshiping.

"What you don't want is a fortress you don't want to set it up to a point where, regardless of your religious beliefs, you want to be able to worship in a space you feel safe," Burke said.

Making the church a safe space doesn't only rely on church leaders. Burke says congregations should be aware and alert of their surroundings

"Have written policies so everybody understands what happens when it happens, but it also does come down to the mental element and thinking about what will I do if this should occur," Burke said.

The Rich Creek Police Department and the Giles County Sheriff's Office are hosting a security training class for all church leaders in the county next month.

Law enforcement agencies throughout our region offer similar training for churches.