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Firm aims to keep church flock safe

One hundred seventeen.

That's the number of people who were killed at faith-based organizations in the United States last year  which is 52 more deaths than in 2016 and five times as many deaths as the reported 22 in 1999, the first year Carl Chinn, a security researcher, recorded the non-accidental deaths, including homicides, suicides and other incidents. 

But the rise in killings is not a reason to be afraid or intimidated during Sunday morning church service, according to Norman resident Tara Koetter, owner of Sheepdog Security and Investigative Services, a wife and a mother of five.

Preparing for a possible tragedy

Koetter's goal is not to instill fear into people; instead, it is to encourage readiness. Statistically, there is a "very low risk" of violence at church on a Sunday morning, she said, but the potential catastrophic outcome is grounds for preparation.

"When I get ready to go to bed at night, I lock my door. When I turn that lock, I never, ever feel more fearful," she said. "I feel more prepared and less fearful. When we put these simple, inexpensive safety measures into place in our houses of worship, we're actually being prepared and deescalating the fear."

Koetter provides safety and security consulting for staff at workplaces and churches and other places of worship. She travels to the location, assesses and makes recommendations on how to improve the current safety and security protocol and provides hands-on training for the staff. The initial consultation is free of charge.

Her idea to establish Sheepdog Security was sparked three years ago after she took the lead of the safety and security team at her large church in Norman. She searched for training resources, but she did not find any in her area.

She then decided to conduct more research about the need for security at faith-based organizations, and she earned her Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) certification, becoming an armed and licensed security guard and investigator. 

Six months later, she received her agency license for Sheepdog Security and Investigative Services.

Her passion for protecting others is rooted in her personal faith. 

"It is truly a ministry for me  just to keep God's people safe," she said.

The name of her company derived from an analogy by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, an author who has studied the psychology of killing.

Citing scriptural authority

His analogy is that most people fall into one of three categories: wolves who mean to do harm, sheep who are peace loving, and sheepdogs who run interference between the wolves and sheep. The majority of people are sheep, Koetter said.

"We sometimes have this resistance to talking about security in churches because the sheep really just want to come to church and worship and think about lovely thoughts  and that's fine," she said. "But there does need to be a group of sheepdogs at the churches who will be on guard for the wolf who might come in."

She described Jesus as the Great Shepherd, and the sheepdog serve under him.

"I believe that every church has not only biblical authority but (also) a mandate to have a team of sheepdogs in place to protect the sheep," she said. 

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