In midst of recent attacks, local churches considering additional security

BOARDMAN, Ohio (WYTV) – There are still many people who see a church as a place of sanctuary and safety.

Pastor Rafael Cruz, of United Baptist Church in Boardman, said, however, that there are some people who have no respect for the church, its property or its people.

Just a month ago, shootings at churches in Texas and California left a more than two dozen dead. Although not violent, there have also been crimes targeting houses of worship here in the Valley.

Last month, two people were accused of stealing collection money from St. Christine’s in Youngstown.

“If we don’t learn from these situations, if we don’t see what’s happening around us and try to be better at what we do, then these events are in vain,” said Austintown Police Lt. Bill Hoelzel.

Hoelzel urged a group of local clergy Monday morning to organize “safety teams” for their churches, something he did for his own congregation at Highway Tabernacle. He said simply having police officers who attend services isn’t enough.

It’s not only here; “safety teams” being organized for churches across the country.

Hoelzel said the couple that robbed St. Christine’s had actually gone to Highway Tabernacle first that day but left after encountering the church’s security.

“Theft, simple robbery, crimes of opportunity are what safety teams will encounter far and away more than an active-shooting situation,” Lt. Hoelzel said.

Although crimes of opportunity are more common, it’s the scenes like that in Texas that have local churchgoers scared.

“Actually, some of my members have come to me and asked me what did I think about their going to learn how to shoot and carry firearms,” said Pastor William Burney, of Word in Action Ministries in Campbell.

It’s enough that at least some in this group may put together safety teams of their own.