Everybody needs an action plan in case an active shooter event occurs in their places of worship because the individuals killing innocent people are not going to stop, an O’Fallon detective told a room filled with between 50-60 people Thursday night.
All the attendees came to the police department to hear suggestions on how to best secure their churches and faith-based organizations.
O’Fallon Detective Brian Gimpel, using a training model put together by Tactical One Training in St. Louis, talked about everything from how to properly secure church doors, to who should be trained to be observant, and what to look for. He showed attendees some tactical things to do and discussed who should make a call for a lock down.
He told those who carry their gun while in church what to do when police arrive on scene, because they won’t be able to distinguish “good guys” from “bad guys” if everyone has a gun. Gimpel said people should remember to call 911 and not assume that someone else has called and that when police arrive they should handle the situation.
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Gimpel told the attendees that if they have their gun in a church, not to have in in their hands and to quickly get it out of the building.
Ann Daniels, business secretary for St. Nicholas Catholic Church in O’Fallon, came to the active shooter training “because it is very important that we know what to do in the event it happens at our churches.”
“It’s happening more and more. Many of us think it won’t happen to our town,” Daniels said.
After listening to Gimpel’s presentation, Daniels said she learned how not prepared her church is. She plans to take Gimpel’s advice and have someone from the police department come to their church to help them secure their church from an active shooter.
She said St. Nicholas serves 1,100 families, which is about 3,500 people.
“Most people consider doors to be a barricade. As a church you want your doors open. Do you lock all of your doors and risk that someone needing help can’t get in? I don’t know what is right,” Gimpel said. “You want people to come in. That’s what makes you that soft target. You better know that. That’s how they (shooters) gain entry.”
Safety plans, training needed
Gimpel peppered his talk with repeated mentions of the importance of having safety plans and training on them frequently.
“Make sure it is options based. You have to have different options. Formalize it for you and your staff,” Gimpel said.
He asked attendees: “Do you have risk assessment? You have to use a check list and identify the decision makers in your churches and organizations.”
Since 2000, the national average for police response time to an active shooter call has been three minutes. However, Gimpel said farther out in St. Clair County a church is, the longer it will take police to respond — up to 20 minutes in some situations. And because shootings happen so quickly, it could be over by the time police arrive.
That’s why it is critical people know what to do to save their and many other lives, Gimpel stressed. It’s important for church leaders to know who belongs to their church — military members, law enforcement officials, doctors and nurses.
Gimpel spoke with urgency about “four E’s training” — educate, evade, escape and engage.
“Education is the most important. Knowledge is key. We must prepare and practice for the event,” Gimpel said. “In moments of high stress, people often refer back to their training. That is a proven fact.”
“These people are used to stress and can act under stress. The average citizen is paralyzed. They freeze, lock up and become an easy target for the shooter,” he said.
Gimpel asked the audience if they knew who was carrying guns in their churches. If not, he told them to get that information and know where they are sitting. He also said that ushers should be trained and be included on security teams.
“Make sure they have radios and they understand what they need to do,” he said. “They’re going to read somebody’s body language. They’re going to be your observers, reporters. If they see something alarming who do they tell and how do they relay the information? It could be a medical emergency. They may notice some unusual behavior, someone who is emotionally distraught.”
Communication and cameras
Gimpel said communication is key and that everyone should know how to communicate information and who is trained to handle the critical moments.
“Some churches have small radios and ear microphones. Some of you have security cameras, but who is monitoring them?” he asked.
He said cameras are good, but if no one is monitoring them, the information captured cannot be relayed to someone who is qualified.
Procedures should be in place for redirecting people and that the church should refuse entry to some people if a person in the church has reason to be concerned, Gimpel said during the training.
“If in doubt, make contact. Reach out offer your hand. Pat them on the shoulder. That’s enough confrontation to make them leave,” he said. “It’s similar to a bank robber, with his mind made up to rob a bank. He enters the bank, hands a note to the teller, but someone distracts him by saying hello. Now he has to turn and respond. If he doesn’t it will throw up a red flag. You feel the body language through awkwardness. The more they talk to you, the less they can focus on their plan.”
Currently, a majority of mass shootings have been carried out by a single gunman, but Gimpel said he expects that to change. He said people can save lives by throwing something, like a fire extinguisher, to distract the shooter, or using it to subdue him if they were able to take him down. “Anybody can do it. Don’t doubt your strength,” he said.
Gimpel asked the audience if they had a rallying point identified for people to gather once they have gotten outside safely. “You need to identify a rallying point so we will know who is in the building when we come and we can send a couple of police officers to your rallying point,” he said.
When asked if law enforcement has developed a profile for mass shooters, Gimpel said while he agrees that shooters have been mostly white and male no profile has been developed. He urged people not to focus on a specific race or gender or thinking that the shooter will be a lone gunman “or you might miss something,” Gimpel said. “It was a man and woman in the San Bernardino shooting.”
He was referencing the shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., on Dec. 2, 2015 where 14 people were killed and 22 others were seriously injured in a terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center. The shooters were identified as Tashfeen Malik and Syed Rizwan Farook.
Mahogany Dudley-Finley, a member of New Life in Christ Interdenominational Church in O’Fallon on Scott Troy Road, said after listening to Gimpel’s presentation, “my biggest take away was the options-based approach. There has to be multiple ways you can respond and there shouldn’t be just one way.
Vivian Phelps, who is also a member of New Life in Christ, said for her, it was the “four E’s.” Phelps said she learned some things from the fire chief that she didn’t know. “They don’t tell us some things because of codes,” she said. After hearing and seeing some techniques to use to secure her church, Phelps said she is going to make sure they are employed.
O’Fallon Fire Chief Brent Saunders, a 13-year veteran of the department, closed out the presentation encouraging everyone in attendance to invite the police and fire department to their respective establishments so they can learn on site what they should have in place.
“I hope they left with a better understanding of the things they can do within their organizations and churches,” he said. “I hope they took in all of the facts that play in public safety and learned about how to secure themselves in case of an active shooter or intruder.”
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503
At a glance
Here’s how to get a police assessment for your church:
- What: O’Fallon Detective Brian Gimpel said O’Fallon officers are available to provide assessments to area churches both large and small.
- So far: 16 churches have signed-up, according to Gimpel.
- To sign up: call 618-624-9553