Uniform or Plain Clothes: The Optimal Dress Code for Church Security Teams
Should You Have a Uniform or Not?
The dilemma facing many church administrations and their security teams revolves around a key decision: should the security personnel be outfitted in uniforms, making their presence obvious, or should they opt for plain clothes to blend in with the congregation? This decision is not merely about apparel—it's a strategic choice that carries significant implications for both the security and the comfort of the church community.
I make Christian Warrior Training and this newsletter free for everyone to strengthen and protect Christians everywhere. To support my work, consider a paid subscription if you are in a position to. Either way, this and our training will always be free.
Uniforms can serve as a visible deterrent to potential threats, clearly delineating the presence of a security apparatus within the church. They offer a sense of assurance to the congregation, knowing that trained personnel are on watch. Conversely, plain clothes allow security members to blend in seamlessly with the congregation, potentially giving them a tactical advantage in certain situations. However, this approach might also lead to challenges in immediate recognition during emergencies.
To help you understand which direction to go, I draw upon my three decades of experience in law enforcement to delve into this complex decision. I worked equal amounts of time in plain clothes assignments as well as uniformed patrol. I will explore the pros and cons of both approaches, aiming to provide a balanced perspective that respects the sanctity of the church environment while prioritizing the safety and security of its members. The choice between uniform and plain clothes for church security teams is not just a matter of preference; it's a strategic decision that could have profound implications on the safety and well-being of the church community.
In the context of our article, a uniform can include a shirt emblazoned with “Security” on the back, or it could be an official full uniform, or anything in between. What it does not include is a name tag only or a blazer that a lay person could not identify immediately as a security team member.
The Case for Uniformed Church Security
Visibility as a Deterrent
Uniforms serve as a powerful visual statement, signifying order and authority. In the context of church security, this visibility plays a crucial role in deterring potential threats. The presence of uniformed personnel sends a clear message that the church is not defenseless, that it is under the watchful eye of trained individuals ready to respond to any situation. This factor alone can be instrumental in preventing incidents before they occur. Uniforms stand out; they are easily recognizable even from a distance, ensuring that anyone with malicious intent is aware of the security measures in place. This visibility acts not just as a deterrent but also as a reassurance to the congregation, affirming that their safety is being actively guarded.
Identification and Response
In emergency situations, time is of the essence. Uniforms offer the distinct advantage of immediate recognition, enabling both law enforcement and congregants to quickly identify security personnel. This rapid identification is crucial in high-stress situations where every second counts. It assists external law enforcement in coordinating responses with internal security teams, ensuring a cohesive and efficient approach to managing the situation. For congregants, seeing a uniform can be a source of comfort and clarity, knowing exactly who to turn to for guidance and protection. This clarity in identification can be vital in chaotic scenarios, where distinguishing friend from potential foe is imperative for the safety of everyone involved.
A uniform also conveys authority. It shows you have the authority bestowed upon you by the church to make decisions in an emergency for the church. Whether it is to order an unruly stalker to leave the premises, or to keep a mentally ill person from disrupting the church service, that uniform conveys immediate and unrelenting authority to take action.
The psychological impact of uniforms on both congregants and potential intruders is significant. For the churchgoers, the sight of a uniform can evoke a sense of safety and order. It reassures them that there are measures in place for their protection, allowing them to focus on their spiritual experience without undue concern for their personal safety. On the other hand, for potential intruders, the psychological effect can be one of intimidation and deterrence. The uniform symbolizes authority and readiness, potentially dissuading malicious actions. It's a visual reminder that the church is not a soft target, that there are trained individuals ready to intervene. However, it is important to strike a balance – the presence of uniforms should not be overwhelming or militaristic, as this could inadvertently create a sense of unease. The goal is to provide security in a manner that respects and preserves the serene and welcoming atmosphere of the church.
The Case for Plain Clothes Church Security
Low Profile Advantage
One of the primary arguments in favor of security personnel wearing plain clothes in a church setting is the low profile it affords. This approach is grounded in the strategy of blending in with the congregation, maintaining a subtle security presence. While the primary role of security personnel is not to avoid confrontation with adversaries, the low-profile nature of plain clothes can be beneficial in certain aspects. This approach allows security members to blend in with the congregation, facilitating an unobtrusive observation of the environment. The key here is not to evade responsibility in facing potential threats, but to provide an added layer of vigilance without the overt presence of a uniformed guard.
I do feel the need to address one repeating comment I hear from Church security teams; some people feel it is necessary to be in plain clothes so they are not shot first in an active shooter. They feel that if they are shot first that they will not be able to adequately protect their congregation.
This thinking needs to be done away with immediately. When I wore a uniform as a police officer, I knew there were people that wanted to do harm to me simply because I'm wearing a uniform. I knew that going into the job. Just like you know going into this job that people may attack you first because you are security. I personally think it is awesome that they want to take me on first. They know that I'm a threat to them and they are going to try and bring the fight to me. This is why I train. I train for that fight including fighting if I am shot or somehow partially incapacitated. I would much rather them come after me than the people I choose to protect. If that is a true worry of yours, you should choose another ministry to serve in other than security.
Comfort for the Congregation
Another aspect to consider is the comfort level of the congregation. Some church goers may find the presence of uniforms in a place of worship to be unsettling or overly authoritative. Plain clothes can alleviate this concern, helping to maintain the normal, peaceful atmosphere of the church. By dressing in a manner similar to the rest of the congregation, security personnel can perform their duties without creating an overt sense of a guarded facility. This approach can be particularly beneficial in churches where a strong emphasis is placed on creating an open, welcoming environment for all attendees.
Plain-clothed security members can move through the congregation without drawing attention, allowing them to monitor situations more discreetly and respond in a manner that minimizes panic or disruption. You can surveil suspicious people that enter the church without making that person feel unwanted in God’s house. If your suspicions about the person are unfounded, then the person will never know what you or others thought.
Pros of Uniforms
Now lets break down the pros and the cons of wearing uniforms vs. staying in plain clothes. First, the pros and cons of uniforms:
Deterrence: The visible presence of uniforms can act as a strong deterrent to potential wrongdoers, signaling a robust security presence.
Easy Identification: In emergencies, uniforms allow for quick and clear identification of security personnel by congregants and law enforcement, facilitating a swift response.
Authority Presence: Uniforms convey a sense of authority and professionalism, signaling that security measures are taken seriously and are in capable hands.
Cons of Uniforms
Potential Intimidation: The presence of uniforms in a church setting might be intimidating for some congregants, potentially impacting the welcoming atmosphere.
Risk of Being Targeted: Uniformed personnel may be the first targets in a hostile situation, as their attire clearly identifies them as security.
Pros of Plain Clothes
Discretion: Plain-clothed security can blend seamlessly with the congregation, maintaining a low profile and preserving the church's peaceful environment.
Tactical Surprise: In the event of a security threat, plain-clothed security personnel have the element of surprise, potentially giving them an advantage in response.
Ease for Congregants: The absence of visible security uniforms can make the church environment feel more relaxed and welcoming, especially for new or nervous attendees.
Cons of Plain Clothes
Difficulty in Identification: In a crisis, the lack of distinct attire makes it challenging for congregants and external law enforcement to quickly identify security personnel. This can result in friendly fire incidents.
Lack of Visible Deterrence: The absence of a uniform means there is no overt signal of a security presence, which may embolden potential aggressors.
Expert Opinion and Personal Experience
I have been to critical incidents in both plain clothes and in uniform. I've also had the experience of being in uniform and responding to a critical incident where there are plain clothes people on scene already. I've also had incidents where plain clothes people that are armed have come to help me.
But before we get into that, I think it's important to talk about a very important person. His name is William Wilkins of the Oakland Police Department. Wilkins was a narcotics detective that I had worked with previously. As narcotics detectives, we were always in plain clothes.
One night, Wilkins heard officers chasing a carjacking suspect. Everyone at OPD knew Wilkins. he responded to the scene, found the suspect and confronted him at gunpoint. Unfortunately, for him, two rookie police officers arrived at the same time, and saw him pointing a handgun at the suspect, and they open fired killing Wilkins.
There are many stories just like this one that involves friendly fire. That's what happens when you have armed people at an evolving, dynamic critical incident. I don't fault the rookie officers and I don't fault Wilkins either. It is a tragic incident. I knew two of the three involved and all are great people.
I remember one day I was in the city of Hayward, California, watching a murder suspect that we were about to arrest. I was in plain clothes so I could blend into the neighborhood. We had called the police agency and let them know that we were in the area, in plain clothes, and we were there to surveil a double homicide suspect. there was a miscommunication at that agency and a relief dispatcher did not get that message. Next thing I know, I was being taken out of gunpoint by five deputies after somebody called me in as a suspicious, armed gang member. I am lucky that it worked out well for me.
Bad things happen. We need to do everything we can to make sure that bad things don't happen again. Part of that is wearing a uniform. The pros outweigh the cons when it comes to wearing a uniform in church security. I know there are a lot of people that do not want to hear this. I pray that you listen to my sound advice that is based in experience and training.
Biblical Insights on Visible Security
While the Bible does not directly address the concept of uniformed security, it offers valuable insights into the principles of visible authority and protection, which can be applied to the context of church security. A notable example is found in the Book of Nehemiah, particularly in Nehemiah 4:13, where Nehemiah appoints guards to protect the city of Jerusalem as its walls are being rebuilt. This action underscores the importance of having identifiable and visible protectors, a principle that can be analogously applied to the presence of uniformed security in churches today.
Furthermore, the New Testament provides guidance on the role of authority figures and their visible presence. Romans 13:1-4, for instance, emphasizes the importance of respecting governing authorities, described as God's servants for the good of society. This passage can be interpreted as an affirmation of those who visibly maintain safety and order, akin to uniformed security personnel in modern church settings. While explicit references to uniforms are absent, the Bible’s teachings on authority and the safeguarding of a community echo the contemporary practice of having visible, dedicated security teams in places of worship. These scriptural insights reinforce the idea that a visible, identifiable presence committed to the protection and welfare of the church community aligns with biblical principles.
What do you think? Let me know what scripture is applicable here and what you think about plain clothes vs. uniformed security.