Following the Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting last month that left 11 dead, along with four police officers and two others wounded, Mayor Joseph Polisena, Police Chief Richard S. Tamburini and the Johnston Police Department have taken steps to ensure that places of worship in town are safer.
An invitation was recently sent to the religious leaders of all faith-based facilities in town to meet with the mayor and members of the JPD to review safety protocol and procedures. Last Friday, those spiritual leaders met in the mayor’s office to discuss their houses of worship, current steps they are taking to protect their members, to gather more information about how local law enforcement can help, and have their questions answered.
“We met with these leaders today so that they can go back to their respective parishes and demonstrate to their parishioners that church leadership and the police department are working together to make sure that they produce a safe environment in each and every church,” said Chief Tamburini. “So when people are there praying, they can be assured that the police are on the outside, there are people on the inside that know what to do in case an intruder gets in, in case there’s a suspicious person, that the police will be there.”
Chief Tamburini offered assurances that there have been no threats against any institution in town and that these security efforts are routine and necessary to keep the community informed and safe.
“We started with the schools, and we put a program in place where officers adopt schools. Now the mayor wanted us to meet with the churches, and that’s what we did today,” said Tamburini. “That’s what we did, we met with the churches, and the work will continue. The leaders are very interested in having police go to their parishes and discuss their safety programs and how they can best convince their parishioners that their welfare and safety is our highest priority.”
According to Mayor Polisena, he felt it was his duty following the synagogue shooting to call all of the clergy members of every denomination in town. He said that the town is there to serve and will help develop facility safety plans.
“Some already have protocols, some don’t, but now they are going to develop protocols along with the police department,” said Polisena. “The ones who have a protocol and procedure in case of an active situation, whether it be a shooting or someone acting out, the police department is going to look at their policies and possibly tweak them.”
Polisena said that police officers are willing to go into churches and halls to speak with ushers and other members to inform them of steps police would take should a situation arise. While the mayor felt that some facilities were already prepared, the town’s additional efforts now may help prevent a tragedy.
Each religious leader was provided with a disk containing a wealth of security information designed specifically for places of worship, along with a security booklet.
“I feel a lot better now knowing that they know that we are there for them,” said the mayor. “The key is, if you see something that doesn’t look right, call 911 because our men and women of the police department can diffuse situations.”
Whether the issue is a mental health one or one dealing with security, the mayor said that the full strength and cooperation of the Johnston Police Department is available. He’s ordered the JPD, at the request of the religious institution, to go into a facility and review their policies and procedures and to help them develop or improve upon existing safety measures if necessary.
“I told them don’t spend money with some professional security company that may come in and take advantage of the situation. We’ll do it for them with their input,” said Polisena, who added that an additional police presence is available for patrols around churches during services. He said that the town is compiling a list of service times to accommodate security requests.
Following the Pittsburgh shooting, President Donald Trump at a press conference stated that the outcome of the shooting would have been different if an armed guard had been present. Polisena said that many parishioners in town are police officers, and he didn’t recommend armed guards to the leaders during the conference held at his office.
“I don’t think that’s what you want to do at a church. But they do have people that are police officers that come to their services and they know who they are, which is good,” said Polisena. “I don’t agree with the president that there should be armed guards in churches.”
Polisena felt that religious leaders were receptive to the town’s message and he believes that message is clear.
“I want to send a message that you’re safe in Johnston. We care about you, no matter where you worship, we care about you and your safety,” said Polisena.