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Posted on August 5, 2019 at 8:30 AM by Renie Dugwyler
In the summer of 2015 I attended an FBI training in Washington D.C. and happened to be sitting next to Charleston County South Carolina Sheriff Al Cannon the evening of June 17 when he received a call about a church shooting that left nine people dead at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. While walking to the hotel to prepare for his departure, Sheriff Cannon engaged in many telephone conversations along the way, including several with local faith leaders in his jurisdiction. His readily apparent relationship with the faith community in Charleston County prompted me to question the relationship our sheriff’s office has with our local faith community, and the safety of houses of worship in Jefferson County.
Upon my return that week and after a frank conversation with our command staff, I came to the realization that while we had connections to the faith community, we should do as much public safety education and training for houses of worship as we do with schools, businesses, homeowners associations, and other organizations within the county. Our vision is for Jefferson County to be a safe place for all people to live, learn, work, and play; therefore, we want our residents and visitors to feel safe anytime and anywhere in our county, including during religious activities.
As a result, we launched our “Safety in Faith” program in August 2015 with a full-day training summit for leaders and safety team members of all houses of worship within the county, regardless denomination. Over 300 people attended the inaugural summit to learn how the faith community faces unique safety challenges due to the juxtaposition between keeping their place of worship safe for everyone while welcoming anyone. Since its inception, the Safety in Faith program has expanded from an annual summit to also include two safety workshops offered each spring and fall.
The JCSO’s Safety in Faith program may have been the first of its kind in Colorado, but it is not exclusive to the Sheriff’s Office. We partner with the District Attorney’s Office and several other local law enforcement and fire protection districts to offer the most comprehensive public safety services possible to our faith-based community during the annual summit and bi-annual workshops. And while the Safety in Faith program is intended to mitigate vulnerabilities specific to religious institutions, our services and expertise in this regard is not limited to local houses of worship. The sheriff’s office, as well as our public safety partners, offer similar safety opportunities to schools, businesses, homeowners associations, and other organizations throughout Jefferson County.
For those interested, this year’s Safety in Faith Summit is Thursday, August 22 from 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. Faith leaders, administrators, safety team members, staff and volunteers are encouraged to attend, as well as the general public. The summit will include presentations on facility security; risks and liabilities; practical insights and tactical how-tos for before, during, and after an incident; recognizing behavioral signs of an attacker; and de-escalation techniques. A continental breakfast is served at 7:30 a.m. and lunch is also provided during the summit. There is no cost to attend, but registration is recommended at https://www.jeffco.us/728/Safety-in-Faith.
Certainly, individuals or sectors within any jurisdiction can be targets of criminal activity for their religious beliefs or affiliations, and unfortunately in 2015 it took a tragedy half a continent away to help us realize a gap in our service to these individuals and institutions. Since then, however, we have built and strengthened our relationship with the faith community and now the Safety in Faith program exists to help prevent another tragedy from occurring at a house of worship in Jefferson County, regardless denomination.