After worrying for five long years over absolutely no incidents of the sort, a suburban Birmingham, Alabama church is seeking state permission to hire its own police force:
"After the shooting at Sandy Hook and in the wake of similar assaults at churches and schools, Briarwood [Presbyterian Church] recognized the need to provide qualified first responders to coordinate with local law enforcement," church administrator Matt Moore said in a statement, referring to the mass murder of 20 first graders and six teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut by a deranged man with an AR-15 style rifle just before Christmas 2012.The bill, which passed the legislature last year but didn't get signed in time by Governor Robert Bentley- who resigned this week just ahead of being impeached- has been approved by the Senate and is expected to pass the House. It's being pushed by Republican Senate Majority Leader Jabo Waggoner, 80, a legislator since 1966.
Briarwood will be the first church police force in America, and, some argue, only the second in the world after the Vatican's.
The megachurch is a major property holder in the leafy Birmingham suburbs next to an interstate highway:
Briarwood has two large campuses, with the church and Birmingham Theological Seminary off Acton Road at Interstate 459, and at the affiliated Briarwood Christian School on Cahaba Valley Road.
"It would only be for patrolling the campuses, north and south," Johnston said. "There wouldn't be any patrolling of neighborhoods."The church claims it, its 4100 members and its schools hold some 30,000 events a year, or some 83 a day.
The police department would essentially be that officer in a full-time position working for the church, [Eric Johnston, the church's lawyer ad author of the bill] said.
It would not involve a jail or other facilities - basically an officer and an official car, he said. "I couldn't imagine it would be something more than that," Johnston said. "If there is an arrest on campus, the local jurisdiction would be called and they would come pick the person up."Though church officials insist the police force will just be an old guy drivin' around, the bill goes way further than that. It provides that Briarwood
may appoint and employ one or more persons to act as police officers to protect the safety and integrity of the church and its ministries. Persons employed as police officers pursuant to this section shall be charged with all of the duties and invested with all of the powers of law enforcement officers in this state.
(b) Every police officer appointed and employed pursuant to this section shall be certified by the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission and shall meet all of its requirements, including continuing education.
(c) The authority of any police officer appointed and employed pursuant to this section shall be restricted to the campuses and properties of Briarwood Presbyterian Church.Johnston insists the church is more like a college with a police force than a church using its own law enforcement authority to protect its own:
Questions were raised in committee about a drug investigation at the Briarwood Christian School in 2015 and whether a private, internal police department would cover up a drug problem.
"No, it didn't have anything to do with that," Johnston said.
The sheriff's office deferred to the school and the school to the sheriff's office.
"There was a drug investigation at the high school," Johnston said. "Like most schools, you've got students doing things you shouldn't do. The school cooperated with law enforcement. They didn't cover up anything."
Briarwood Presbyterian Church Administrator Matt Moore released a statement on behalf of the church saying that Code 16-22-1 of Alabama law provides for the employment of one or more persons to act as police officers at colleges and other private educational institutions. "The church seeks to mirror that provision," it says.State Senator Rodger Smitherman, a Democrat who represents Birmingham, said he understands why the church would want its own force because "they are in a remote area."
FROM THE NORTH [to Birmingham, AL]: Traveling south on I-65, go north on I-459. Take the first exit, Acton Road. Turn left on Acton and take a right at the second traffic light. Bear to the left up the hill and onto the Briarwood campus.
FROM THE SOUTH [to Birmingham, AL]: Traveling north on I-65, go north on I-459. Take the first exit, Acton Road. Turn left on Acton and take a right at the second traffic light. Bear to the left up the hill and onto the Briarwood campus.
FROM ATLANTA [to Birmingham, AL]: Traveling west on I-20, go south on I-459. Take the Acton Road exit. Turn right on Acton and take a right at the next traffic light. Bear to the left up the hill and onto the Briarwood campus.
DD (decimal degrees) DMS (degrees, minutes, seconds)
Latitude 33.4160038 Latitude North 33° 24′ 57.614″
Longitude -86.759033 Longitude West 86° 45′ 32.519″
Briarwood is 10.3 miles from the Birmingham Police Headquarters, and 3.6 miles from the Hoover, Alabama police station. It is so remote its address is named for the church.
Briarwood is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination founded in 1973 by churches opposed to the reunification of northern and southern American Presbyterians after a split over the Civil War and slavery.
The PCA adheres to all of the theological positions of the US Republican Party.
Also pending in the Alabama legislature is a bill that would go even further,
The Alabama Church Protection Act would enable to churches to tap gun-toting congregants for security and provide them with legal protections if they shoot anybody.