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Religious Leaders Work To Keep Congregations Safe

By Keith Garvin, CBS 11 News
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People meditate and pray during a spiritual gathering. (credit: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

People meditate and pray during a spiritual gathering. (credit: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

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RICHARDSON (CBSDFW.COM) – Churches, mosques and synagogues have long been the targets of crime and vandalism. Last year, thefts and burglaries cost religious organizations in the United States about $22 million. But now, these buildings have become the sites of more serious crimes.

Extreme violence has turned places of worship into crime scenes. “I think that sometimes we believe that this is something that can never happen to us, and I think for a long time we believed it would never happen in a church,” said Michel Carroll of the Fort Worth Police Department.

In 1999, Larry Ashbrook killed seven people at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth. This past March, Rev. Clint Dobson of Northpointe Baptist Church in Arlington was murdered during a robbery. This is the kind of violence that police across North Texas are trying to prevent.

“There is not one thing that is going to fit every congregation,” explained Frank Bradford of the Richardson Police Department, “but we are trying to get everyone to take a look at where you go to church, or where you worship, and see if there is anything you can do to better secure your building.”

“That all starts with awareness,” said Carroll, who investigated the Wedgewood shootings and hopes that these recent incidents serve as a wake-up call. “Awareness of members of your community. Awareness of members of your congregation. Awareness of yourself and your surroundings.”

“The next thing is to come up with steps,” Carroll continued. “It’s like we do when we practice a fire in the house. What are we going to do? What steps are we going to take?”

Emergency management coordinator Mistie Gardner explained, “That’s what really stresses someone out during an emergency. It’s not ‘Oh, something bad has happened,’ but ‘What do I do about it? How can I help?’”

“There are some things we just don’t have any control over,” Carroll said, “and I think the foundation of the church is faith. As long as you have faith, you are able to deal with anything else that happens.”

These religious establishments want to keep their doors open to everyone, but must also realize that such lax security makes them easy targets. “I think we’ve all done a few things,” said Ed Meath with First Baptist Church of Plano. “We just haven’t done enough.”

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