Black and white Sound Cloud icon Black and white YouTube icon Black and white LinkedIn icon Black and white Facebook icon

Watch the Radar

Assess Potential Threats

Radar screen background

Resources include the training module “Deescalating Disruptive Persons,” the Security Guide article “Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation,” and a U.S. Secret Service research report “Mass Attacks in Public Spaces: 2016 - 2020.”[1][2][3]

From the Bible

Also to punish the just is not good, nor to strike princes for equity (Proverbs 17:26).

“Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children” (Genesis 32:11).

He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death ... And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death (Exodus 21:12, 15).

* Hatred is a motivation for murder:

But if any man hate his neighbour, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into one of these cities: Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die (Deuteronomy 19:11-12).

* Jesus equated hatred with murder:

Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, “Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:” But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, “Raca” [“Worthless”], shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, “Thou fool,” shall be in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:21-22).


There are several factors motivating violent attacks on persons in workplaces, community events, schools, and places of worship. The primary ones are hatred, fear, and mental illness. These factors do not always lead to violence, but there are indications of when they are more likely to result in deadly violence.

In church safety and security, we need to be aware of persons who are at risk of becoming violent and watch for signs that they may act. This is the equivalent of Army, Navy, and Air Force radar operators watching for approaching threats.

In the News

It is easy to say, "If only they had known." Sometimes there was no way of knowing certain persons would show up or that they would pose a threat. For some others, however, there was enough reason to keep an eye on them, to watch the radar. We have seen these kinds of situations in our Lessons Learned from Church Shootings series.

Emporia, Kansas, March 6, 1988 - A man entered the sanctuary of a Baptist church during the Sunday morning service and began firing a handgun. One person was killed and four were wounded. When he tried to reload the gun, a church member hit in the back of the head with a hymnal. What was his motive? Personal rejection. Four years earlier, a woman who was also a student at Emporia State University and attended the church refused his marriage proposal. Apparently he blamed the church.[4]

Vestavia Hills, Alabama, June 16, 2022 - On a Thursday evening, a man attended a Boomers Potluck in a church's fellowship hall. He sat alone, not talking with anyone, even though some asked him to sit with them, He pulled out a handgun and began shooting, fatally wounding three before being hit by a chair and taken down. There was no clear motive, but the shooter had been a licensed gunsmith and dealer. He had occasionally attended services at the church. He also had police encounters related to alcohol use and was seen as an oddball by some who knew him. In February 2023 he was found competent to stand trial for capital murder. The question remains of what role alcohol and mental health played in the shooting.[5][6]

Sutherland Springs, Texas, November 5, 2017 - The person who attacked the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs was involved in a feud with members of his second wife's family. He had been sending threatening messages to his mother-in-law, who lived in Sutherland Springs and was a member of that church. He came prepared to kill everyone. His mother-in-law was not there that Sunday, but her mother was, and died.

The shooter had a history of violence, including a court martial conviction for assaulting his first wife and stepson. If that conviction had been entered into the federal data base, he would have been barred from buying weapons. If the mother-in-law had told the church's pastor about the threats, they could have asked for police protection. As it was, he had been to the church several times, and his presence made members feel uneasy. He would have been a good candidate for a threat assessment.[7]

Laguna Woods, California, May 15, 2022 - The suspect in the shooting of a Taiwanese congregation in Laguna Woods believed that Taiwan should not be independent and hated Taiwanese in this country who favored an independent Taiwan. He lived in Las Vegas, and news stories did not tell of any connections he may have had with the Taiwanese in Orange County.[8][9]

Charleston, South Carolina, June 17, 2015 - A young White Supremacist in his 20s had a website on which he expressed his desire to restore segregation and Jim Crow laws. He stated in a manifesto why he was choosing the AME church in Charleston as the target for an attack. If his site had been monitored and the church had been given a warning, the massacre of nine parishioners, including a prominent pastor, might have been avoided.[10]

Videocast and Show Notes

In a videocast on the YouTube channel Sheepdog Church Security Academy, Kris Moloney tells how we can "Watch the Radar" by assessing potential threats to our churches (the audio is on a podcast). Kris draws upon his military, law enforcement, and church security experience.[11][12]

Beneath the video screen is a link to the Show Notes (an article summary). It is for this article until the next weekly article and videocast are posted.[13]

On the Screen

There are several phrasings indicating that guardians are aware of certain persons, items, or situations. One of them is "on the screen," It is borrowed from radar surveillance. This goes beyond watching people, vehicles, and packages on church property, or even on the street. This means receiving intelligence about anything which may impact the church. This includes potential threats to the church's safety. We need to do a threat assessment of persons that are on the screen to be aware of threats before they come through the door of the church.

Detecting Threats

We train Safety Team members (and, hopefully, also greeters) to notice facial expressions, mannerisms, and signs of hidden weapons. This can be applied to what we see and are told about people in the church, the community, or anyone with a past or present connection to the church.

Reasons for Disruptive Behavior

Let's begin with those with whom we are connected, whether in the church or to those in the church (such as a member's family). The Church Security Guide article "Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation" lists four types of personal crises which may lead to disruption: Family Problems, Financial Problems, Substance Abuse, and Medical Conditions. Here the best option for preventing disruption up to and including violence is in helping someone to deal with a personal crisis:

  1. Family Problems: failing marriage, children acting out, arguments with in-laws
  2. Financial Problems: foreclosure, job loss, difficulty affording basic needs or paying bills.
  3. Substance Abuse: alcoholism and other forms of addiction put tremendous strain on people.
  4. Medical Conditions: chronic pain, frightening diagnoses, terminal illness, mental illness

The Church Safety Ministry is not fully equipped to help them with their issues, but we can connect them with those who can.[2]

Warning Signs of Disruptive Behavior

There are physical warning signs we may observe in those we see at church. The Security Guide article has a list of a few of these warning signs (from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Safety and Health):[14]

Shared Intelligence

Shared intelligence can come from anyone inside or outside the church. Sources may include government agencies (law enforcement and social services, for example), other churches, charities (such as the Salvation Army), church neighbors, and concerned persons in the community. This intelligence may also include reasons our church is a potential target.

The National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) research report Mass Attacks in Public Spaces: 2016 - 2020 listed behavioral and experiential factors in those who committed mass attacks. Here is an abbreviated version:

Just having one or a few of these characteristics does not necessarily identify the person as a threat to the church. It just means that there is some level of risk. For some subjects this means always being alert to any new indications that a threat is likely or imminent.

Encourage bystander reporting. This is an important source of shared intelligence. Some workplaces have a notice saying, "See something? Say something." If they know you will listen carefully and not judge them or simply dismiss what they say, family members, classmates, co-workers, and neighbors are more likely to share important information.

Acting on Intelligence

Some behaviors call for special attention. NTAC has an annotated list. This follows a warning to "not wait for a direct and specific threat before taking action." They recommend having a "workplace violence prevention plan." Let's translate that to a "church violence prevention plan." This is boiled down to three elements: identify, assess, and intervene. Understandably, a Church Safety Ministry does not have the same authority over church members and their families and associates as a company has over its employees, but there are ways to identify potential risks, assess them, and intervene in an appropriate way. According to NTAC, this includes "strategies for resolving personal grievances."

Indications of Likely Threats

These are behaviors which indicate a high likelihood that an individual poses an imminent threat.

Set-up to Assess Threats

Church safety ministries need to be set up for threat assessment. In a small church, this function can be served by the church leadership, including the Safety Director. They will discuss any concerns of persons at risk.

A larger congregation can have a formal Threat Assessment Team. This allows for consistent follow-up. Also, a regular team can more surely keep confidentiality. A person in the church community will know whom to tell about a potential threat and have them as the source remain confidential. Someone in the church who receives threats, such as the mother-in-law in Sutherland Springs, will be more likely to tell someone in the church leadership.

The Team can actually have a relationship with local law enforcement agencies. This partnership works both ways. The team is more likely to hear about community threats which may affect the church, and there is a quick connect and a listening ear for any concerns the church has about specific persons or developing situations.


Be aware of potential threats to the church and conduct threat assessments.

Training Notes

"Deescalating Disruptive Persons" is one of eight training modules in the Safety Member Certification program. Each Church Safety Team is encouraged to have all its members trained and certified through this program. Those who pass each module (class) will be certified for two years.

Why two years? It is important to refresh training periodically, Besides keeping the subject fresh in the minds of team members, the information can be updated and new information added.

The training is available in three formats:

Team Certification (church-hosted classes) is ideal for training a brand new team or several members being added at one time. The Safety Director or instructor downloads a training bundle with an instruction manual, a PowerPoint™ presentation, and printable handouts. Depending on the church's location, a Certified Onsite Instructor may be available.[15]

Individual Certification (self-paced online instruction) enables a new Safety Team member to be trained without having to wait months (or even more than a year) to attend classes. It can also be used when the member cannot attend one or more classes.

Online Events (live Zoom classes) are open to individual and group enrollment. The next class, "Mass Trauma Emergencies," on March 19 will be the last in Quarter 3. Quarter 4 begins on March 26. "Deescalating Disruptive Persons" will be taught on April 16. The next school year begins in September.

Color coding:

Related to Article







Training Module


Sep 11

Nov 13

Jan 29

Mar 26

Safety Team Fundamentals


Sep 18

Nov 20

Feb 5

Apr 2

Active Shooter Response


Sep 25

Dec 4

Feb 12

Apr 16

Deescalating Disruptive Persons


Oct 2

Dec 11

Feb 19

Apr 23

Protecting Children from Abuse


Oct 9

Dec 18

Feb 26

Apr 30

Basic Use of Force Laws


Oct 16

Jan 8

Mar 5

May 7

Arson and Fire Safety


Oct 23

Jan 15

Mar 12

May 21

Storms and Disasters


Nov 6

Jan 22

Mar 19

Jun 4

Mass Trauma Emergencies

Up Next

The next article is the "1988 Calvary Baptist Church Shooting" (Lesson Learned).


  1. Kris Moloney, "Deescalating Disruptive Persons," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. Kris Moloney, "Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, 2018 [].
  3. Dr. Arna Carlock, Meagen Cutler, Dr. Lina Alathari, Diana Drysdale, Steven Driscoll, and seventeen others, "Mass Attacks in Public Spaces: 2016 - 2020," National Threat Assessment Center, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, January 2023 [].
  4. Anon, "Man Charged in Church Shooting; Reportedly Was Spurned By Former Member," AP, March 7, 1988 [].
  5. Craig Monger, "Vestavia church shooting: what we know," 1819 News, June18, 2022 [].
  6. Jeff Wyatt, "Accused church shooter deemed mentally capable," ABC 33-40 News, February 6, 2023 [].
  7. Corky Siemaszko and Alex Johnson, "Texas Church Shooter Had 'a Purpose and a Mission' in Family Feud, Investigator Says," NBC News, November 6, 2017, Updated November 7, 2017 [].
  8. Hannah Fry, Richard Winton, Jeong Park, and Luke Money, "Laguna Woods shooting was a hate crime targeting Taiwanese people, sheriff says," (from Los Angeles Times), May 16, 2022 [].
  9. GQL, "Laguna Woods church shooter was motived by hate of Taiwan, sheriff says," The Mercury News, May 16, 2022 [].
  10. Anon, "US shooter's alleged 'manifesto' explains motive for church murders," Yahoo News, June 20, 2015 [].
  11. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Academy, YouTube [].
  12. Kris Moloney, Church Security Roll Call, SoundCloud [].
  13. Kris Moloney, "Weekly Show Notes," Sheepdog Church Security Academy [].
  14. Staff, "Violence and Harassment in the Workplace - Warning Signs," Canadian Centre for Occupational Safety and Health, 2014 [].
  15. Certified Onsite Instructors, Sheepdog Church Security [].