Easter brings out high-level security for local churches

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There was a time when churches were regarded as safe havens. That time has come and gone.

“You thought you were always pretty safe at a church,” says William Walker, chief security officer of the ministry at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church near downtown Columbus.

“Sacred ground,” he adds. “You wouldn't think people would violate that but as you know, it happens.”

Walker runs a very tight security team who wear security badges alerting parishioners – and strangers – of the security force as they monitor hallways, exterior doors, and parking lots.

There’s also an extensive surveillance system where Walker can access views from 16 cameras using his cell phone.

“We monitor people going in and out of the restrooms because of the children, to keep a close eye on that as well,” he explains.

Two deputies from the security team are always posted inside the vestibule when worship begins. Backpacks are also prohibited from the sanctuary, where there are five exits in case of an emergency.

Security personnel sit strategically in pews and at the altar, communicating via hand signals if they see someone acting suspiciously.

“We rely on the person sitting in the bird’s nest,” Walker says, referring to the single seat in the corner of the altar that oversees the entire congregation. “If there's something happening in the back, we can turn around and if there's a threat to be addressed, we can get up and turn around and look around.”

In April, Mt. Olivet Baptist Church will join a growing list of churches looking to take active shooter training from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

Last year, deputies trained at a total of 41 churches through its Civilians Response to Active Shooter Events program, better known as CRASE.

Requests for the program are skyrocketing, with scheduling filling up well into November 2018.