Last year, Church Security Alliance asked its’ members about the number of people carrying concealed weapons as part of their church security duties.  The vast number of people who responded revealed several team members carry firearms for church protection.

I was recently reading an article on Police One involving a tragic shooting for both the victim of the shooting and the police officer who saw no other choice but to shoot.

Although this particular incident did not take place in a church setting, it did involve a 74 year old pastor named Scott Wayne Creach, 74, pastor of Greenacres Baptist Church in Spokane, Washington.

On August 25, 2010, Pastor Creach and Deputy Brian Hirzel met in a turn of preventable tragic events.  However, from the facts presented, Deputy Hirzel had little choice, but to draw his weapon and fire a defensive shot.

Hirzel responded to the area of Creach’s residence, a dwelling which was next to his private business, a plant nursery.  Residents in the area had complained of vandalism, so Hirzel was in the area in an unmarked police car.

Hirzel parked his unmarked police car in the parking lot of the nursery where he saw something suspicious.

Pastor Creach, armed himself with a .45 caliber pistol – as he previously had done several times when investigating suspicious circumstances on his property – and approached the vehicle.

The deputy saw the weapon and ordered Creach to drop the gun.

Hirzel said Creach initially responded that he didn’t have to drop his gun, and mentioned that he had had problems with theft in the past. But Creach eventually put the gun in the back waistband of his pants.

In essence, Pastor Creach did not follow the lawful order of a police officer.

Hirzel then ordered Creach onto the ground, but Creach refused. Hirzel couldn’t remember exactly when he called for backup but said he struck Creach on the outside of the left knee with a police baton.

Then, Hirzel said, Pastor Creach reached for his gun.

“When, when I saw his hand go behind his back and come out with a gun, or the grip of the gun that I saw, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that he was going to shoot me,” Hirzel told investigators, according to transcripts.

Deputy Hirzel shot Pastor Creach and Creach was killed.

Of course, after a police involved shooting, the prosecutor, civilian review board, and media examine and scrutinize the incident.

The finding?  Deputy Hirzel was justified in the shooting.  A situation like this could easily occur in the church security field, so I wanted to point out what I believe happened, and some recommendations, so church security personnel do not find themselves in a deadly confrontation with law enforcement.

Whether you encounter a law enforcement officer patroling your church lot during an event or summon the police to your church for assistance in dealing with a run of the mill crime or violent situation, understand this…the officer sees everyone as a threat until evidence proves otherwise.

In this encounter Pastor Creach came out of his home armed and ready for self defense.  I am unaware of his depth of training, but it is my understanding he was 74 years old.

When he observed a suspicious car, which was the deputy’s unmarked police car, he approached the car with his gun at the ready.

So, What Happened?

Deputy Hirzel has been trained to recognize threats.  He has probably seen hundreds of videos of cops being shot or involved in a shooting scenario.  He has also been trained to become very aggressive, loud and commanding when he feels threatened.

It is important at this point to understand the body’s reaction to fear.  When human beings feel threatened, they experience instantaneous physiological changes such as decreased field of vision, time distortions, and reduction in hearing.  The brain quickly assesses the threat and recalls previous experiences, training, and techniques that have been practiced again and again.

I believe both Deputy Hirzel and Pastor Creach were in this state of fight, flight or freeze.  The Deputy was conditioned to respond aggressively and violently in training to both intimidate and stop anyone threatening his survival.

Pastor Creach probably viewed himself as both a good person and one who was on the side of law enforcement.  When the deputy ordered him to drop the weapon and get down on the ground, Creach most likely couldn’t understand why Hirzel was reacting so loudly.  He probably believed since he was on his property and acting to prevent a possible criminal act, that he did not have to surrender or drop his weapon.

He chose instead to “holster” his weapon by placing it in his waistband.  This was not what he was told to do.

Police officers are trained to understand that a person ignoring a command is somone who may be devising a plan to assault them.  Often, when a criminal repeats a question the officer asks or completely disregards a command, he is formulating a plan of escape or assault.

The moment Pastor Creach placed the weapon in his waistband, Deputy Hirzel was stressed, focused, and reactive.  The deputy drew his baton and struck the pastor on the leg, and ordered him to get down.

Tragically, Pastor Creach reached for his firearm and was fatally shot by Deputy Hirzel.  Officers are judged by the reasonableness of their actions in a quickly evolving, tense incident from the perspective of a knowledge base acquired through training.

I would argue that Deputy Hirzel initially acted with less force than he was reasonably expected to use.  A deadly force encounter with a firearm does not require an officer to use his baton in attempt to disarm a perceived threat.  Deputy Hirzel did not want to shoot a senior citizen holding a firearm, and he attempted to gain the compliance necessary with a baton strike.

Nobody knows what Pastor Creach was thinking.  He probably felt threatened on some level, and in the confusion of someone yelling, reacted poorly and was shot.  The entire life changing event took no more than a few seconds.

Lessons Learned

As I have mentioned in other posts, when law enforcement is called to the scene, they usually have third or fourth hand information.

How would you react, and what should you do if you are involved in a situation where you had to use violence to stop violence?  What have your trained your team members to do?  Training is more than just talking about it.  Have you physically practiced a scenario where law enforcement is responding and your team members have to react appropriately so they don’t get shot?

If you are thinking it can’t happen in your church, you are mistaken.

Lesson #1

If your team members are carrying any kind of weapon system on church premises, it is a great idea to inform your local police department.  This means your municipal and county agencies should know there are armed civilians or off duty law enforcement officers acting as security.  Meet with them and develop a relationship.  Many of our members have expressed how open thier law enforcement officers are to their efforts, and many have collaborated in training scenarios with their local police agencies.

SWAT personnel and line officers wanty to know this information, and are often eager to help out in any way they can.

Lesson #2

Whether your local police agencies know you or not, it is a good idea to assume responding officers have no idea who you are, and in the moment of a crisis, they don’t have time to care.

Even if a church member uses a cell phone and gives accurate descriptions, which is doubtful under fire, the information will be confused, and you may be misidentified as the bad guy.

If you are standing over the suspect, pointing your firearm, baton, taser, or OC at him, the officer will react to the perceived threat that you have become.

He may or may not issue an order.  Police are not required to give a verbal order of “DROP IT” before shooting.  Most policies say it is required only when practical.  In my opinion, by an officer giving a warning, this only gives a bad person an extra second to shoot first.

If chaos is reigning and people are shouting and directing the police to where the bad guy was last seen, they are most likely pointing at you.  Remember, as I mentioned earlier, the police have a limited visual capacity, they are deaf, and time has slowed down or sped up.  In essence, they are not in their “right mind” and will react based upon their training.

Their training consists of this….THREAT….VERBAL COMMAND (MAYBE)…SHOOT TO STOP THREAT.

Even on an officer’s best day, this is a very, very, very difficult circumstance to be in.  Milli-seconds count when saving lives, and there isn’t time for questioning an armed person’s motivation.

Lesson #3

If you have used force on a threat to your church, pre-plan and train how you will respond to law enforcement’s response.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. If the suspect is down but not secure, from cover if possible, maintain a visual on the suspect and scan the area for additional threats.  If safe to do so, secure your weapon in your holster when law enforcement arrives.  Deploy your security banner and lie down on the floor.  Point at the bad guy as they enter and yell, “BAD GUY.” Keep your hands out and stay in the prone position.  Remember you are subject to the same physiological reactions the police and bad guy are under.
  2. If the suspect is armed, alive and moving he is still a threat to you and to your church family.  If he is on the ground and wounded, he can still shoot people.  You should act accordingly to the threat using your training and conscience.
  3. If you find yourself in a situation where a police officer is yelling at you, no matter how you feel about, do exactly as he directs you to do…and do it quickly.  Anything can happen.  An officer may enter a building from an unexpected direction.  If he sees you first standing with your weapon out, there is a high probability you will be shot.
  4. Realize that when the police arrive, they don’t want your help.  They are trained to get everybody down if possible, and anyone ignoring their directions will be seen as a threat.  They are scanning trying to find the threat.  While lying on the ground (with no weapons showing) POINT and SHOUT.

Training Scenario

With practice guns (no live guns in training) delegate a bad guy, security team member, and police officer.

Have the armed bad guy enter with his practice gun, have the team member respond appropriately, and have the team member practice getting to a place of cover.

The security team member should cover the bad guy, practice communicating via radio or cell phone, and scan the area for additional threats.  When law enforcement arrives, the team member should respond appropriately.  That is, holster the weapon; drop the weapon and lie down in the prone position; deploy the security banner.

The bad guy role can change between 1. Out of the fight. 2. Down but not out 3. Standing armed or disarmed.

Upon entry the police officer should give commands and the security team member should comply.  The security team member, from the prone position should point his finger at the bad guy and yell “BAD GUY”

Try not to get too far fetched or ridiculous with the role play.  Each part is to be scripted and the script should be followed.  The big idea here is getting reps with the appropriate response.  Believe me, people do strange things when they are under stress, even in training scenarios.  However, training is the arena where you determine how you will react, mistakes you might make, and correcting the mistakes, so you respond well when you are stressed out.

If you have no idea how to respond to violence appropriately, or wonder what techniques you can use, check out our Physical Incidents DVD.  This product explains the Fight, Flight or Freeze, demonstrates appropriate defensive force, and how to limit your liability if you find yourself in the unenviable position of a force encounter.

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