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St. Mary’s church leaders meet with sheriff, staff

St. Mary's County Sheriff Tim Cameron
St. Mary’s City, MD - The hosting clergyman, Father John Ball of Trinity Episcopal Church, greeted several fellow ministers and laic leaders of various local congregations Tuesday, Dec. 5 for a meeting called because of the challenging times in America. “We are here out of concern, not fear,” said Ball of the gathering at the small, historic church in St. Mary’s City. Billed a “Church Safety Summit,” the session was led by St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron, who kept the invitation-only meeting a secret until about three hours before it occurred. Cameron invited the church leaders “to discuss security needs and to coordinate security assessments and other plans for the future.”

The sheriff sent out invites to all of the county’s churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship. About 70 people packed the church, and the session was also attended by sheriff’s office chaplains and other law enforcement personnel.
Prompting the summit is the rising number of “deadly force incidents.” The year 2017 has been the deadliest in over a decade, with over 200 dead. The latest incident, Sunday, Nov. 5 at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, resulted in the deaths of 26 people.

Cameron told the gathering that all St. Mary’s County Public Schools have active shooter procedures and perform drills. “It makes me real angry that that’s where we are,” the sheriff said. He added that churches do present an active shooter environment.

Captain Steven A. Hall

In discussing “best practices,” St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Office Special Operations Division Commander Captain Steven A. Hall (pictured, left) said the church leaders are best prepared to start the process of developing a plan and procedure that can be implemented if the worst-case scenario because a reality. “You know more about your churches than anybody,” said Hall, who added he was recently asked to speak to leaders of a local church and was impressed with how far ahead of the curve they appeared to be. “They had a plan,” he said. Hall added that technology can be a key component in ensuring safety in the churches. One example would be a surveillance system that can be motion-activated and alert congregants by way of cell phone. Captain Hall admitted that developing a safety plan and then training members of a congregation to drill is “a tough thing to do for a church.” He encouraged church leaders to speak with their counterparts about their drafted safety plans. Cameron noted that although the talk of taking such measures is born out of the concern due to recent violent incidents, having a solid safety plan could also aid churches in reaction to other calamities, such as storms and other natural disasters.

A few of the church leaders in attendance indicated during the question, answer and comment session following the sheriff’s presentation that law enforcement officers who are part of their congregations are being encouraged to carry their service revolvers with them to church.

The sheriff encouraged the churches to begin planning sessions and pledged the support of the sheriff’s office. “We’re going to try to push this along,” said Cameron, who added that the sheriff’s office may contract with a professional training service to give the church leaders the expert access needed to effective planning.

After the session adjourned, Cameron told TheBayNet.com that St. Mary’s County Public Schools funded the training for preparing for the threat of active shootings. “Potentially, we [sheriff’s office] might have the monies to cover it,” he said. “We would replicate what we did with public schools.” 

Cameron stated he wasn’t at all surprised that a few churches are already drafting safety plans and strategies for preparation and prevention. Of the Church Safety Summit, he remarked, “this is unprecedented, what’s happening here.”

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com

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