The Ellis County law-enforcement community hopes to change the mindsets of church leaders, their staff, and volunteers when it comes to the safety.
The Ellis County Sheriff’s Office, Midlothian Police Department, and Ellis County Constable Pct. 3 will host an Ellis County church protection program from 8 a.m. — 4 p.m. on Feb. 10.
“Our role, specifically, is to teach a civilian response to an active-shooter course to these folks that attend. It will specifically be for church staff members or members of the church safety teams. So it is not just open to the public,” Midlothian Police Commander Tim Hicks said. “We just want people to be aware and not to think that these types of things won’t happen in my city. We want people to start to think and to be aware and know their surroundings and know what is going on around them.”
The course advocates the run, hide, and fight approach in an active-shooter situation. It recommends running if there is an accessible escape path, hiding from a shooter at the location if evacuation is not possible, and only fighting as a last resort if a person’s life is in imminent danger.
Ellis County Sheriff's Lt. Wess Winn stated hosting this type of event had been talked about but the shooting that took place at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs in November has made the need for this training greater. The Associated Press reported 26 people were killed in the attack and 20 were injured.
“This was something that needed to be done and this was something that we had looked at doing. It is not in response to it but it has kind of worked out like that,” Winn said. “I think that more people are going to attend because they see a greater need for it. As law enforcement we understand what people are capable of doing. Sometimes the general public does not understand that.”
The FBI website states there were 220 active shooter incidents across the country from 2000-16.
Ellis County Pct. 3 Constable Mike McCorkle will speak on how to set up a church safety team. McCorkle also serves as the director of security for the Avenue Church in Waxahachie.
“We are going to be discussing the logistics of setting up a safety team, which includes interviews, the application process, background checks, and training. The safety team is just one part of a (church’s) line of defense. Other parts can include cameras, uniformed officers, and lighting, so you’re not just isolating yourself,” McCorkle stated. “We are going to talk about emergency policy and procedures to give direction to the safety team members.”
One of the groups that will speak at the event is U.S. Law Shield.
According to its official Facebook page, U.S. Law Shield is a group that works to preserve a person’s Second Amendment right to bear arms through education of firearms laws and provides firearms legal defense programs.
Winn stated the program would provide churches with the knowledge to come up with their own safety plan. He stresses that there is not an out-of-the-box plan because each church is different in its makeup and size.
During the program, a demonstration will take place where firearms are to be loaded with blanks and fired. This is to provide people with the knowledge of what the weapons sound like.
So far there have been 98 people sign up for the 250 available spots. The event is only open to people that are church staff, members of a church safety security team, or churches looking to start a safety security team. The event is open to Ellis County churches first. There is no cost to take part and lunch will be provided. Security will be provided for the event by police officers from around the county. People attending the event are asked not to bring weapons. Security vendors will also be on-site at the event.
“We just want people to be aware and not to think that these types of things won’t happen in my city,” Hicks stated. “We want people to start to think and to be aware and know their surroundings and know what is going on around them.”
Winn shared Hicks' thoughts about the event, stating that it’s about changing mindsets to keep people safe.
Those who have questions can contact Winn at the sheriff’s office at 972-825-4901. The event will be held at Cowboy Church of Ellis County located at 2374 U.S. Highway 287 in Waxahachie. Signups can be done at www.eventbrite.com. People can only sign up as individuals and not as groups.