By Jessica Gladfelter and Dallas Mosier
We’ve all heard of the “See Something, Say SomethingTM” campaign. But, how does this concept apply in a house of worship?
In a church setting, when is behavior “unusual”? What types of behavior constitute something worth noting and pointing out? The answer might not be as straightforward as you think.
Consider someone yelling at the top of his lungs. This behavior is viewed much differently at a sports event than in a church.
Likewise, consider someone who appears nervous and scared. Perhaps such behavior is appropriate for the dentist’s waiting room, but not so in a church.
The point is this: What matters is the “baseline” expected behavior for a given venue. It can vary dramatically from venue to venue. So, the “see something” part of the phrase can refer to behavior that is unexpected or outside the norm for that particular venue.
Consider houses of worship. They often attract those who are suffering emotional or spiritual crisis — a recent loss of a loved one, a divorce or separation, a diagnosis of a serious disease, the pain of life’s hard knocks. Houses of worship seek to provide solace and comfort for those who are suffering and for all individuals in need. This accepting nature creates a wide berth for different behaviors, making what would normally be considered “suspicious activity” not nearly as alarming in a church as it would be in an airport, a mall or other large venue.
And, what’s normal behavior isn’t the same across all houses of worship. Each faith, and each denomination within the faiths, has its own standards of behavior.
Therefore, recognizing behavior that would make you “say something” in a house of worship might be challenging.
Surmounting the challenge
What, then, should houses of worship do to pick up on behaviors that might indicate future problems, including the possibility of violence? Security experts offer some precautions and suggestions that will help increase good security practices.
Know your congregation. Be aware of the social norms for your congregation, and look for behaviors that deviate from them. Just as an airport is different from a mall, so, too, are houses of worship different from one another. Those differences create a unique normal environment — whether it’s loud, quiet, emotional or stoic. Knowing the norm for your congregation will help you to pick out suspicious behavior unique to your house of worship.
Train your ushers or greeters. In many houses of worship, the ushers or greeters are the first line of defense. This is beneficial, because they might know the congregation better than anyone. If someone is going to pick up on suspicious behavior for the house of worship, it might be an usher or greeter because they interact with congregants at every service — sometimes the same congregants each week.
Know the laws. Look into the laws for your state regarding what staff (particularly mental health counselors) — should your church have those — be allowed to reveal about those whom they counsel. Know what information must be brought to the attention of police.
- Ensure good communication with other houses of worship, your staff, your counselors and local police. If what you have seen or observed leads you to believe that violence is imminent, the “say something” part should be a 911 call. If the behavior is suspicious, but violence is not imminent, you must make a judgment call as to whether it is a 911 call or a non-emergency call.
In April 2014, a young woman was arrested in connection with providing support to ISIS, a violent terrorist group. This young woman was stopped from causing further damage because leaders at the church she attended noticed her unusual, suspicious behavior. This incident is just one example of how “seeing” suspicious behavior from members of your congregation, followed by “saying” something to the proper authorities, can prevent future harm and save lives.
Dallas R. Mosier is a rising junior at Saint Francis University in Loretto, PA. She is pursuing a BS in chemistry, as well as a BS in criminal justice. She currently serves as an intern for a federal agency in the DC area.
Jessica A. Gladfelter is a rising senior at Roanoke College in Salem, VA. She has done research in psychology for three years and is currently pursuing a BS in psychology. She currently serves as an intern for a federal agency in the Washington, DC area.