Run to protect yourself. Lock the door to keep an intruder out. Fight to protect yourself.
That’s just one of the many messages deputies with the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office conveyed to several dozen local religious leaders when they gathered Feb. 22 to discuss various types of emergencies they may encounter, including armed intruder situations, Sheriff James Pohlmann said.
More than 50 leaders of various faiths came together at the Sheriff’s Office Training Center to seek advice from law enforcement professionals on how they can better prepare should they be faced with having to protect their congregations from harm.
Members of the Sheriff’s Office Training and Community Relations Divisions advised religious leaders on what to expect from law enforcement officials during an event and offered tips on ways to prepare themselves.
The presentation was given by Capt. Charles Borchers, Community Relations and Crime Prevention director; Lt. Stephen Ingargiola, director of training; Lt. Raymond Theriot, deputy director of training; Sheriff’s Office Chaplain Aaron Johnson; and Sgt. Eric Eilers.
Various types of items that can be used to aid someone trying to protect themselves from an intruder were introduced by the panel of highly-trained officers, including kick bars and door wedges. Participants also were urged to vamp up first aid kits to include essential items like gauze, bandages, and tourniquets that may be needed to administer first aid prior to the arrival of Fire or EMS personnel.
Lt. Theriot said being prepared ahead of time is key.
“Things might not go exactly according to your plan, but you will have a better outcome if you train than if you don’t train,” he said.
Capt. Borchers stressed how valuable citizens can be in aiding the department in the fight against crime.
“The feedback we get from the public helps contribute to making our department so successful at keeping the community safe,” he said.
Lt. Ingargiola, director of training for the Sheriff’s Office, stressed to the lecture participants the importance of the rule “see something, say something.”
“If something doesn’t look right at your facility or in your neighborhood, you need to contact the Sheriff’s Office right away,” Lt. Ingargiola said. “Information, no matter how small it may seem, could be that one piece that helps us prevent events like these.”
Aaron Johnson, the Sheriff’s Office chaplain, referred to the pastors, elders, and deacons in attendance as the shepherds of their flock who try to lead and guide.
“We want to encourage you if you have a desire to protect your flock and the willingness to act, to fight, to lock doors, to do things,” he said, “then we want to encourage you that if you have questions that this is something you can entertain and talk about and discuss with us.”
While everyone involved hopes these types of circumstances never have to be dealt with in St. Bernard, Sheriff Pohlmann said his department finds it imperative to train for the possibilities.
“It’s a question of being prepared in advance for what could happen while hoping it doesn’t happen. In today’s environment, it’s the preparation that’s the key,’’ the Sheriff said. “Our goal is to offer some advice from a law enforcement perspective for these church leaders in the event they have a violent emergency at one of their houses of worship.”
Sheriff Pohlmann said the department’s Training Division provides armed intruder training to all enforcement members of the Sheriff’s Office – from patrol to corrections to the Special Investigations Division and Criminal Investigations Bureau to the Special Operations Division, including the Special Weapons and Tactics team, or S.W.A.T. team, and the Bomb Squad.
Deputies train year-round at various locations throughout the parish, including churches, schools, the movie theater and government buildings such as the parish courthouse and government complex.
Local clergy who were not able to attend the gathering can call Capt. Borchers at (504) 278-7628 or Chaplain Johnson at (504) 278-7659 for more information.