Jim McGuffey on Church Security

From Research On Religion…

In the wake of several highly publicized shootings, we look at how safe churches are, and what they can do to improve their safety, with Jim McGuffey, and independent security consultant with A.C.E. Security Consultants LLC and an expert on church security.  We start with Jim’s background, both religious and professional, to understand where his insights into this issue come from.  Jim spent time in the military, civilian police, and the armored car business before setting out with his own consulting company.  He has also been extensively trained in a vareity of security programs with the licensing to prove it.  More importantly, Jim spent time in several denominations including a stint as a church elder.  He credits the latter experience with his ability to understand the specific difficulties with trying to protect churches from falkling prey to a variety of illicit behavior, including both bodily and property crimes.  He explains how he came to specialize in church security, a service he provides to various religious groups free of charge.  We then dive into a discussion about the biggest threats to churches.  Jim explains that the number one problem is that churches do not think much about security, highlighting the figure that only about 15 – 20% of churches have security programs in place.  Tony brings up the issue of how congregants might react to a visible security program by speculating that this might either ease the fears of parishioners or, paradoxically, make them more concerned about potential threats.  After all, if there is an armed security guard patrolling the church grounds, it is only natural to assume that there must be some problem there.  Jim agrees that this latter response is something that concerns pastors and elders.  If they do create a highly visible security presence with cameras and guards, this may make the church appear less welcoming and scare away members.  Overcoming this mentality is often one of Jim’s greatest challenges.  He also notes that church staff often only start thinking about security after a well-publicized shooting and they tend to overlook more common incidents such as burglary, theft, or vandalism.  Indeed, given that physical violence is often rare yet what we focus on, churches typically find themselves more vulnerable to “mundane crimes” such as embezzlement because they don’t give much thought to these things.  Jim then walks us throgh a typical church security assessment that he would conduct for a house of worship.  While not in any means comprehensive, this portion of the interview might be very valuable for clergy or congregants if for no other reason than simply to make them aware of some common sense things they can be alerted to.  Although a regular security may sound like “overkill” for a church, Jim points out that one of the main impacts of crime on a church is to tarnish its reputation, especially with incidents that are committed by internal members of the church community.  Tony asks if there are certain types of vulnerabilities that church face relative to private businesses or residences and Jim reviews a number of these.  One of the more interesting things that churches often neglect is a process of background checks on volunteers; paid staff are often vetted, but volunteers — often the main source of help for many congregations — are often assumed to have pure motives and hence don’t need to have their backgrounds or intentions examined.  Please note that during our discussion of conducting background interviews for volunteers, Mr. McGuffey’s phone failed thus we have a brief interruption in the flow of the conversation.  Despite these technical problems we finish strong by talking about how Jim generates interest in his services, noting that what he offers is not simply a service for Christians, but is available for congregants of all faith.  Recorded: January 9, 2013.

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