Grand Haven Tribune: Police officer: Security, training important for churches

Police officer: Security, training important for churches

Becky Vargo • Jan 4, 2019 at 7:00 AM

A recent incident at a Grand Haven church should make leaders at all local churches think twice about their open door policies, says Grand Haven Department of Public Safety Capt. Clint Holt. 

This past Sunday morning, police said a 32-year-old White Cloud man entered St. Patrick’s-St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, where he destroyed a couple of televisions and a chair, and tried to attack an employee inside the building. The vandal had also thrown fireworks around the building, so the two Mass services that morning were canceled and the building was evacuated until a Michigan State Police explosives-sniffing K-9 checked the campus.

Anthony Lee Wabindato was arrested at the scene and arraigned Monday on charges of malicious destruction of property, felonious assault, and resisting and opposing police. Bond was set at $50,000.

“It’s probably long overdue that churches start paying attention to their security,” Holt said. “It’s nothing against the churches. It’s due to the circumstances in the world today.”

Holt noted that he has led several emergency situation trainings with the staff at St. Patrick’s-St. Anthony’s. Father Charles Schwartz said Monday that some staff had also attended off-site trainings.

The new parish building also has automatic locks, but the building was not locked Sunday morning because church staff was getting ready for the day’s services.

Holt said the church he attends, Harvest Bible Chapel, is blessed to have a lot of fellow police officers who attend services at the Spring Lake and Grand Haven campuses. The captain said that he helped develop the security training and security team at his own church.

“Each service has 4-5 security officers there,” Holt said.

With a larger church, you have more trained people available, he said. But there are also more people you don’t know.

“You have to keep your eyes and ears open for suspicious activity,” Holt said.

One of the things that Holt advocates is limiting the amount of access points, “so security can keep better track of who is coming and going.”

“We have to take the precautions to keep our own people safe,” he said. The church “is an attractive target for somebody who has ill intent.” 

Holt said that’s because there are a lot of targets and not many places to lock down for safety.

“You just can’t be cautious enough when you have a situation like this,” he said.

Holt noted that he had recently led emergency incident/active shooter training at First Presbyterian Church in Grand Haven, and they have set up a security team there. He has also been requested to schedule training at Trinity Reformed Church in Grand Haven.

Holt has conducted a number of active shooter trainings at local schools and businesses, all based on the avoid/deny/defend principles.

“All this has to be taken seriously,” he said. “Churches don’t want the negative publicity, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that somebody got into the church.” 

Anyone interested in having emergency incident training can contact the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety at 616-842-3460.

The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office also provides active shooter training. They can be contacted at 616-738-4000.

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