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Charlotte faith leaders learn about safety during shootings

Deputy Chief Vicki Foster of support services addresses the audience at the beginning of the seminar. CMPD officer Chris Kopp introduced "House of Worship Safety" seminar to an auditorium of over 100 guests from local places of worship. Topics discussed in the seminar included personal safety, building security and active shooter responses for civilians.
Deputy Chief Vicki Foster of support services addresses the audience at the beginning of the seminar. CMPD officer Chris Kopp introduced "House of Worship Safety" seminar to an auditorium of over 100 guests from local places of worship. Topics discussed in the seminar included personal safety, building security and active shooter responses for civilians. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

Religious representatives from across the Charlotte area learned from police on Friday what to do if a shooter attacks their place of worship.

Just over six weeks after a gunman killed nine people at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department led two presentations on shooter response safety and building security in the Charlotte Police and Fire Academy.

Officer Chris Kopp began by recounting the flaws in how civilians and law enforcement responded to mass shootings, including those at Columbine High School in Colorado, at Virginia Tech and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He said some students and staff at Virginia Tech who took action to escape were more likely to survive than those who didn’t.

“If your plan is to wait for law enforcement,” he said, “that is a bad plan.”

Kopp said the majority of recent mass shootings in the country have lasted less than five minutes, but that CMPD’s average response time for its highest-priority calls was six minutes.

John Wolfe, representing Jonahville A.M.E. Zion Church in Huntersville, said the seminar helped remind him to be on alert for threats. “It prepares you for the unforeseen,” he said.

Kopp dubbed his response plan ABC: avoid, barricade and counter. He said each option is appropriate for different environments:

▪ Avoiding the shooter may be safest in open areas with many exits.

▪ Barricading doors may be necessary in smaller spaces such as classrooms and churches.

▪ Countering the shooter with violence may be required when there’s no apparent escape option. He advised trying to grab the shooter’s gun or using “weapons of opportunity” – nearby heavy or sharp objects.

Deputy Chief Vicki Foster said she was deeply affected by the Charleston shooting. She urged congregations not to be afraid to question new faces if people feel unsafe.

“The faith community is the pillar and the backbone of our community,” she said. “It’s OK to question people.”

Kopp also advised general safety practices such as installing lighting and changing locks on buildings.

Police departments will hold similar seminars in coming weeks in Rutherford County and Henderson County.

Taylor: 704-358-5353; Twitter: @LangstonITaylor

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