With church security top of mind, Va. Beach police will meet with religious leaders

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Police officers will meet with religious leaders Monday to hear their concerns about church security after 26 people died inside a Texas church.

Master Police Officer Allen Perry, with the department’s Community Engagement Unit, says churches and other faith-based organizations have raised concerns this week about a repeat attack.

“A lot of that is driven by our media culture [and] social media,” said Perry. “It’s right in front of our face, but in reality the statistics say we are not that likely to face that sort of incident.”

“It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared for it. We should absolutely have a plan,” he said.

A plan that starts with the basics, including regular fire drills and identifying church members who can perform CPR.

As for an active shooter, Perry says people can run, hide or fight.

“If you’ve got to, you’re cornered, better than to sit there and get shot, fight. You’ve got to be willing to fight.”

Since the Charleston church shooting in 2015, Perry and his team have helped 20 churches, synagogues and mosques create a security plan. Part of the plan includes training for greeters to learn how to engage people who look out of place.

“It’s a method of both introducing yourself, putting that person on alert …. and at the same time you are being welcoming,” said Perry.

Kim Thumel leads a 50-person security team at Wave Church, which has taken advantage of the police department’s free services.

Thumel says her team’s role is “to have a smile on our face but also be very visible to anybody who may have bad intentions.”

“We need to understand that this is a soft-type target,” said Thumel, of churches. “The worst thing that you can do is walk around in that state of mind that it’s never going to happen to me.”

Thumel says having a written plan complete with an exit strategy can save lives in the event of an active shooter.

“If you don’t think about it advance, you can’t make a good decision in that moment,” she said. “You just shut down.”

Police invite all faith-based organizations to the question-and-answer on Monday, Nov. 13 from 6:30-8 p.m. inside Building 19 at the Virginia Beach Municipal Complex.

The department will also host an Active Threat Citizen Defense Course (ATCDC) from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Dec. 2 at Wave Church. The church is located at 1000 N. Great Neck Rd. in Virginia Beach.

The defense course is free and open to the public, but all participants must RSVP.

Interested people or groups should email Master Police Officer David Nieves at dnieves@vbgov.com to reserve a spot.