By Richard Rourk
The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department is implementing new programs to allow a more secure worshiping experience in the county.
“In light of recent events, I feel it is time to authorize all Unicoi County Deputies while attending church services, be able to drive their patrol vehicles and wear their uniform,” Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said. “This is at their (the officers’) discretion.”
According to Hensley, having officers visible in churches could guard against criminal acts in the church.
“I’m hoping that having officers in uniform in churches could deter any illegal activity,” Hensley said.
Hensley is also offering church safety classes for any church’s interested.
“I’m offering church safety classes, not security classes, but safety classes,” Hensley said. “This class does not give anyone the authority to carry a gun; if you do that, you absolutely have to go through the handgun permit school.”
According to Hensley, any church interested will receive education from an experienced trainer. “I have an instructor who has taken training for this,” Hensley said. “He is a very experienced instructor and I feel that in this day and time in wake of everything happening across the country, it’s time to implement this program.”
Hensley acknowledged that Unicoi County should be prepared.
“You hate that it’s come to this, but my job as sheriff of the county is to keep the citizens safe and to stay ahead of any threats,” Hensley said. “I look at the area churches like I do our SRO program for area schools – there is no question that this has happened at other places more than once, and it could happen here.”
For Hensley, the SRO program and the church safety classes are there to provide safety for such public places.
“When our teachers and students go to school, I want them to feel safe, and when our citizens go to worship, they should do so in peace,” Hensley said.
Any church in Unicoi County that is interested in establishing a church safety team should contact the UCSD to schedule training. Please call 743-1864 Monday through Friday.