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Barry County Sheriff Department sees uptick in church requests for active shooter training

Barry County Sheriff Department sees uptick in church requests for active shooter training. (WWMT Carissa Hutchinson)

Churches in West Michigan have started thinking about safety plans as a precaution to violence.

Newschannel 3's Nicky Zizaza spoke to Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf who said he has seen an uptick in requests from churches for training.

Churches have been taking to keep people safe in light of the church shooting in Texas and Leaf said places of worship are no longer protected by prayer alone.

He said, "When you start looking at a church, usually smaller churches, you'll walk in and everybody's back is turned toward the main entry door and the only one facing the main entry door is the pastor. So what we try and do is say, hey somebody has to watch your back."

Church leaders feeling a special urgency to ensure the safety of their congregants after a mass shooting left 26 dead and several injured at a Texas church.

Leaf said, “In a rural county like Barry county it could take 15 to 20 minutes before we get there and if there is some people who are there who could defend themselves then that is all the better for people inside that church."

He said he's seen an increase in parishioners who have a CPL request training to serve as armed guards at churches.

Leaf said, "How do you do that? What are you watching for? What are some traits that we look for in law enforcement? Are you paying attention? What is going on in your church family? We are trying to wake people up and get them to pay attention to those things."

Some church leaders, like Pastor Brian Steed at Hastings Methodist Church, are uncomfortable with the idea of armed ushers.

Steed said, “We want to be safe and we want to be responsible but we also want to realize exactly what the extent is that it is happening and making sure that we are not over responding or overreacting.”

In a place that once seemed off limits to violence, Leaf said having a form of defense has become a reality.

He said, "We don't know when the next time it's going to happen and the reality of it happening in your church is pretty slim but if it does, it's very tragic."

A dilemma that is becoming all too common in sacred spaces.

Leaf said the training they implement for an active shooter in a school is also the plan they adopt for churches.

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