Central Louisiana Churches Increase Security, Safety

Central Louisiana Churches Increase Security, Safety

Churches in Central Louisiana are working to increase their security and safety measures following at least one threat to a local church and increased threats to houses of worship nationwide.

Churches in Central Louisiana are working to increase their security and safety measures following at least one threat to a local church and increased threats to houses of worship nationwide.

Last month, the Alexandria Police Department arrested a man who allegedly threatened a local priest. According to the police, the man entered Our Lady of Prompt Succor Church during a service and used a large knife to threaten a priest. The man was taken to the Rapides Parish Detention Center and charged with aggravated assault and terrorizing.

"He laid down the knife on the step of the altar and simply turned, and walked back out," Prompt Succor Pastor Rev. Dan O'Connor told KALB.

Luckily no one was harmed in the incident, but it prompted O’Connor to work with the church to finish the safety plan they had begun work on during the spring.

"Several of our staff members and several law enforcement officers are putting a plan together of safety, based on what other churches have done," O'Connor said.

According to O’Connor, the church is working to install more cameras and may begin to lock doors during church services, though the doors would include crash bars so attendees could exit. Most important, he said, the plan involves tasking volunteers from the congregation and law enforcement to remain vigilant during Sunday services.

"20 to 25 people, volunteers in various capacities, to train them," O'Connor said.

Churches across the Diocese of Alexandria have been working on their own safety plans for a while now, KALB reported.

"Everything started literally the day after the mass shooting at the small church in Texas, about a year and a half ago," Diocese CFO David Brook said.

The Diocese said local priests began asking for more security following the deadly shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, which left 26 people dead and 20 wounded.

According to Brook, priests were brought in for training and given an outline of a safety plan to take back and build upon based on the needs of their church. The idea, he said, is to involve everyone at church, including those who are in law enforcement or the medical field; they would attend services as normal but remain vigilant against suspicious behavior.

St. Juliana Church has benefited from having a safety team on hand, including during medical emergencies.

"If a person is sick they know how to treat that person," St. Juliana Pastor Rev. Jose Robles-Sanchez said. "If the person gets emotional, or whatever situation happens, they know how to do it. If a person gets aggressive they also know how to do it."

When Robles-Sanchez took over duties at St. Juliana last summer, the institution already had a safety plan in place.

"When the people come they see that a state trooper is there because he comes to mass, not because he came to watch us because he came to mass," Robles-Sanchez said. "It gives me a good hint of security to me that whoever is coming has to think twice."

St. Juliana is also looking to implement more security cameras.

"It's a fact of life now and it keeps happening," Brook said. "So, we feel like we have to give our people the tools to handle it in a proactive thoughtful manner."

O’Connor said he never thought he would need increased safety measures at a church, but he will do what needs to be done to keep the church safe.

"I didn't think it would come to this," Rev. O'Connor said. "It is it is an extra set of things to think about, things to be concerned about. […] I have a sense of responsibility for the people that are here. It is a worry, but we put it in the Lord's hands. We put it in the very capable hands of all the volunteers and put the plan into place once we have it, and keep us as safe as humanely possible."

According to Brook, every church in the Diocese either has a safety plan in place or is in the process of creating one. O’Connor said his church hopes to introduce the safety plan to congregants this summer.