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December 12, 2017

Cpt. Leon Spoone talks to the pastors of many congregations that gathered to learn more about church safety and security.

Photo by Heather Dawes

Grainger County Sheriff’s Department holds safety meetings for church organizations

Heather Dawes
Grainger Today Reporter

RUTLEDGE – Grainger County Sheriff James Harville and Captain Leon Spoone have hosted several church safety and security classes around the county. Several agencies have reported receiving calls from concerned parishioners and residents. Many across the state are also concerned. There were representatives of two Jefferson County churches in attendance, and Knox County Sheriff’s Department announced that it has future plans to start teaching a class there in Knoxville, as well.

Grainger County Mayor Mark Hipsher was in attendance, along with members and pastors from New Blackwell Baptist Church, Central Point Baptist Church, Heritage Fellowship and at least five other churches.

During the class held at the Grainger County Justice Center Tuesday, November 28, Cpt. Spoone said, “To have the mentality that it can’t happen here is the mentality we are trying to change. It can happen anywhere. Mental instability is everywhere.”

According to the FBI study that Spoone cited in the class, there have been hundreds of church shootings since the 1960s. However, it is the recent Texas church massacre that most concerned people are calling their representatives and safety agencies about right now. The presentation that Spoone put together is composed of data from the FBI and a retired U.S. Marshal. “Years ago, an officer wouldn’t even carry a gun into church,” he said. “Now, we live in a time that we have to have active shooter classes.” Spoone asked the room of 35 attendees, “Who would have ever thought we would have to do this?”

Spoone explained that it may not be because of terrorism, but more likely, mental instability or a domestic violence situation that could cause an incident locally. Spoone said, “Every church has at least one, if not two couples,” that are having domestic violence issues.

He asks that church leaders around the community “come together, pray for our churches and educate the congregations on safety.” He also said, “Churches are already at a disadvantage. Complacency, the same thing day in and day out, it makes people complacent.”

The class was not just about the things that churches could do for security. It was also about safety. He said, “Jesus sent out two disciples, traveling in pairs, working in pairs and going to homes in pairs. Its a key to safety.” The class covered fire safety, outdoor lighting and perimeter safety.

“Video monitoring,” he said, “is good for evidence, but prevention is in changing our behaviors.” The class teaches how to be proactive, not reactive, to get ahead of a situation, as well as security and safety. “Not airport security,” Spoone said, “but be safe.”

Recently Grainger County parishioners had their own scare when an unknown man was traveling church-to-church and displaying odd behavior. “The situation had red flags all over it,” Spoone said, “but it turns out that the gentleman was just asking for money.”

Spoone referred to the book of Nehemiah in the Bible when he said, “there is nothing wrong with churches setting watch.” In an ever-changing world, churches have to change their mentality from an “open and welcome” platform to a “safe and secure” platform and still be inviting to their communities.

The holiday season brings higher odds of becoming a victim to theft as criminals take advantage of shoppers’ vulnerabilities. “The potential for theft always increases during the holidays,” he said, “as people carry more things in their vehicles, and people become more accessible targets.” The GCSD hopes to decrease the chance of churches being targets this season. The increased safety and security that local churches will have due to these classes should make the churches more safe, more secure and less likely targets.

If any other organizations would like to attend or host a class, contact Melissa Smith of the GCSD at (865) 828-3613.



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