The latest mass shooting incident to occur in a house of worship has again started a nationwide dialogue about security where people gather, but some local cops had already taken things a step further.
The Montgomery County Precinct 4 Constable’s Office under the leadership of Kenneth “Rowdy” Hayden, Chief Deputy Barry Welch along with the rest of the command staff have built a reputation for their proactive approach to law enforcement and for “thinking outside of the box”. According to Chief Deputy Welch, they began researching and formulating a plan after the Charleston massacre church massacre.
“There are over 40 churches in Precinct 4, with 15 of them just in Splendora,” Welch said.
He and some of the other supervisors traveled to Austin to learn about security in places of worship and Welch said they came back with “some great ideas.” They took what they learned, along with some of their own ideas and developed a pilot program called “Operation Pray Safe” at an East Montgomery County church. The program, which Welch says still needs some tweaking, is a two-step process. They begin by training multiple church member-volunteers about being vigilant and about red flags they may see if someone comes into the church with bad intentions.
The second part of the program involves an assessment of the actual building, since each will be unique, and the number and placement of security volunteers will vary.
“The mega churches already have security in the building and the parking lot,” Welch said, “but smaller churches don’t have any of that. Unfortunately, now they need it.”
Welch said the volunteers in the pilot Operation Pray Safe program represented a variety of skills and backgrounds. Some were law enforcement, some ex-military, some license to carry holders, and some weren’t armed at all. In the past, he said, door greeters were present when people arrived at the smaller rural churches, and then everyone sat down as the service began. With the modern increased threat of violence, not to mention other threats like fires or natural disasters, Welch said it’s important to have eyes in the parking lot and throughout the building, and have signals established and plans for evacuating the building in an orderly fashion if necessary. While Welch acknowledges that whomever is charged with watching the parking lot will miss the church sermon that particular week, he said it’s important to realize that it’s still service.
“Most people think when you go to church you’re safe,” Welch said, “But now, I worry more about that than being robbed at a gas station.”
Because of Welch and Hayden’s concern for local churches, Welch said they wanted to reach out and extend the offer of their assistance to any local church that’s interested.
For more information, please contact Chief Deputy Welch at the Precinct 4 Constable’s Office by calling 281-577-8985