Threat assessment programs are an essential tool for preventing violence and managing risk at your church. One of the questions that I get asked on an ongoing basis is “How do we address this threat to our church?” A few years ago, I wrote my bestselling book Securing Church Operations a Seven Step Plan for Church Ministry and Safety Leaders, where I laid down a 7- Step Plan to staying safe. Step two is how to create a safety committee, but now, when I work with churches, I’ve reframed this as “create a threat assessment team.” A key component to all your church safety programs is the effective management of threats. And so, building your threat assessment team – a group of trained volunteers or professionals responsible for conducting risk assessments – is your first step towards this.
I’m going to walk you through four of the key steps in starting to launch your threat assessment program, from defining the team’s purpose and recruiting team members to taking action at the end of the assessment. Taking action today will be your first step in preventing violence at your church and building a stronger security culture.
Step 1: Building a Multidisciplinary Threat Assessment Team
An effective threat assessment team is a critical component of any risk management program. By bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, such as law enforcement, mental health professionals, and risk management leaders, your church can ensure you have the expertise and perspectives to conduct comprehensive and accurate risk assessments.
You may be wondering, “Where do you find these people?” I’m pretty sure whether you’re a mega church or a small church you’ll find all those you need within your community. Here’s a few steps in starting to build out your own multidisciplinary threat assessment team.
- Define the Team’s Purpose: Clearly describe the purpose and goals of the threat assessment team. This will help guide the selection of team members and ensure everyone is on the same page
- Identify your Team: Determine who should be represented. This may include law enforcement, mental health professionals, risk management specialists, and representatives from other local non-profits
- Recruit Team Members: Reach out to potential team members and invite them to come on board. It may be helpful to provide information about the team’s purpose and the time commitment expectations
- Provide Training: Don’t just recruit people and let them at it, train all team members so they perform the role effectively. This should include training on threat assessment protocols, information gathering and risk management strategies
Step 2: Developing a Threat Assessment Protocol
A threat assessment protocol is a set of guidelines for conducting threat assessments in a consistent and standardized manner. It outlines the steps a threat assessment team should take when evaluating potential threats. The protocol is designed to ensure that assessments are conducted in a systematic and objective way, taking into account all relevant information and considering a wide range of risk factors.
The goal of a threat assessment protocol is to provide a framework for the team to follow to prevent behavior escalating to the point of action and ensure the safety and well-being of your church community. Here are a few key examples:
- Information Gathering: The protocol should outline the steps for gathering information about an individual of concern, including their background, behavior, and potential motivations for violence
- Risk Assessment: The protocol should include a process for evaluating the risk posed by an individual, taking into account factors such as their behavior, access to weapons, and any history of violence
- Risk Management: The protocol should outline steps for managing the risk posed by an individual, including steps for intervention, monitoring, and referral to appropriate resources
- Collaboration: The protocol should encourage collaboration and communication by all members of the threat assessment team and other relevant persons. This may include law enforcement, mental health professionals, and your local community partners.
- Documentation: The protocol should include requirements for documenting assessments and decisions, including clear and concise records of information gathered, risk assessments, and risk management plans.
Step 3: The Threat Assessment Process
Conducting a threat assessment is the crucial component of your program. By evaluating the level of risk posed by an individual of concern, you can better understand the potential for violence and take appropriate steps to manage or mitigate that risk. Remember, not all risk can be mitigated, some only managed.
I’m going to provide some guidance on the threat assessment process, from gathering information to documenting results. By following these simple steps, you can ensure that you are conducting a thorough and accurate assessment, reducing the likelihood of violence and improving the safety of your church.
- Gather Information: The first step is to gather all relevant information about the individual of concern, including their background, behavior, and any history of violence
- Identify Risk Factors: Next, identify risk factors that may increase the likelihood of violence. This may include factors such as access to weapons, history of substance abuse, or a pattern of escalating behavior
- Evaluate Risk: Using the information gathered and the identified risk factors, evaluate the level of risk posed by the individual. This may involve using a standardized risk assessment tool or a structured decision-making process to help determine the level of risk. Consider the context in which the individual is operating, including their current situation, relationships, and environment. This may impact the level of risk they pose
- Consult with Experts: If necessary, consult with mental health professionals, law enforcement, or other experts to gather additional information and get a broader perspective on the individual’s risk
- Develop a Risk Management Plan: Based on the results of the risk assessment, develop a comprehensive risk management strategy that outlines specific steps to be taken to manage the individual’s risk.
Step 4: Building your Risk Management Plan
A well-crafted plan is essential to effectively managing the risk posed by individuals to your church community. By taking a structured and systematic approach to your risk management, you church can reduce the risk of violence, protect the safety and well-being of your congregation and community, and support positive outcomes for the individual of concern getting the help that they need. This list is not extensive, but it provides options as to how you can manage a risk once your risk assessment process has identified a behavior as high risk.
- Implement Safety Measures: Take immediate steps to ensure the safety of your church and community, such as trespassing the person, issuing a non-contact orders. Increasing your physical security measures or providing support to the individual of concern that could include mental health groups or other programs
- Monitor the Individual: Regularly monitor the individual to track changes in behavior when they at your church. This could involve monitoring their online presence such as their Facebook or Instagram accounts
- Provide Support: Offer support and resources to the individual of concern. This could be mental health services, anger management programs, or crisis intervention teams
- Collaboration: Collaborating with law enforcement both local and federal, collaboration should include mental health professionals, and other outside agencies but don’t forget your internal ministry teams
- Document the Process: Document the process, include the information gathered during your review, the risk factors identified, and the level of risk posed by the persons behavior and how your church intends to respond.
Some final thoughts
Following this guidance will allow you to take effective steps to managing risk posed by persons of concern. Implementing a threat assessment program at your church is a critical step in ensuring the safety of your congregation, volunteers, and church employees. Building a multidisciplinary threat assessment team, developing a standardized threat assessment protocol, conducting risk assessments, and implementing a strategic risk management plan will be your first step to keeping everyone safe.
For more information, watch Simon’s Worship Facility webinar, “Church Threat Assessment: Strategies for Identifying and Mitigating Risks,” available February 21. Register here.
Simon Osamoh is one of the country’s leading experts in securing houses of worship. He is a British American and founder of Kingswood Security Consulting and the Worship Security Academy. Simon spent 14 years as a Detective in England working serious and organized crime. He moved to the United States to Head Counter Terrorism at Mall of America, Minnesota. Simon is a Christian and has spent over two decades helping non-profits stay safe and secure. He is the author of two bestselling books 10 Powerful Strategies for Conflict De-escalation and Securing Church Operations. He is the host of the Church Security Made Simple Podcast and a member of the Worship Facility Editorial Advisory Board.