Texas lawmaker aims to lower the cost for churches that want security officers

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

AUSTIN, TX  (KXAN) — Each week, Austin Christian Fellowship opens their doors for families to worship. When they do, Scott Newman is always ready to serve.

“I prayed about it and just felt like this was something I could do with my skills to help protect my church,” said Newman.

He’s a husband, father and former military who felt called to volunteer on his church security team six months ago. The position required him to get licensed to carry a handgun and go through hours of security officer training. He now looks at people with a new perspective.

“The nuances of people when they’re up to no good are easy to spot if you’re looking for them,” said Newman, who made a two-year commitment to be part of the security team. “I know that nobody’s going to come in here and catch us off guard, I know nobody’s going to come in here and hurt our pastor. I know nobody’s going to come here and do something that would cause a lot of casualties, we’ll get ’em first.”

The ACF security team has been in place 18 months. It was formed the summer after 21-year-old Dylann Roof killed nine people during a Bible study at a Charleston, South Carolina church.

“After Charleston, we knew the world had changed to such a degree that we had to do this,” said Will Davis Jr., the senior pastor at Austin Christian Fellowship, who used to be opposed to adding armed security officers.

“It’s been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made,” said Davis. “We feel much more equipped, much more alert, better equipped to be shepherds — shepherds protect their sheep.”

The church’s security team is technically employed by BSG Security, who also took care of their training.

“They’re volunteering their time so the church is not getting billed for their time, but they are still working for a security company and following all the rules,” said Kent Morrison, owner of BSG Security.

Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, wants to change those rules slightly by giving churches the option of directly hiring their own security officers or off-duty police, without coordinating through a company.

“This is a low-cost alternative solution to provide the requisite protection for all of our churches here in Texas,” said Villalba.

The officers would still be required to get the identical training of someone going through a security company. Rep. Villalba, who was behind the school marshal law last session, said his office received a number of calls from churches around the state requesting a similar program for churches.

“Unfortunately, we live in an age where even churches are targeted by people who seek to do us harm,” said Villalba. “And so this is just one of those situations where we wanted to make sure Texans had the maximum amount of protection they’re eligible for.”

The true cost savings for a church comes when its own members step forward and help for free, like at Austin Christian Fellowship. Morrison says the church covered the initial security officer training, and then the only fee they continue to pay to BSG Security is for ongoing liability insurance coverage.

Rep. Villalba believes a church’s regular liability insurance plan will cover security officers if they work directly for them.

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