Seminar teaches churches to remain safe

David Zuniga has served as usher at hundreds of masses at Holy Family of Nazareth Catholic Church in Irving, one incident always lingers in the back of his mind. An unforgettable church service is the reason he attended a church safety seminar hosted by the Irving Police Department at the Irving Arts Center on Saturday, Jan. 13 at the Irving Arts Center.

“It was an invasion by one person,” Zuniga said. “The deacon and I, and several others, helped subdue a person who was advancing to the podium where Father was. I wasn’t prepared for that.”

After the man was restrained, paramedics took the assailant to a hospital for evaluation. Zuniga still does not know what prompted the incident. However, Zuniga will be better prepared next time after the Irving Police Department’s training.

Sgt. Joseph Palomar organized the non-denominational religious meeting and was the driving force behind the workshop. He and his fellow officers were preaching – albeit to the choir – about a subject he is passionate about: safety.

“Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst,” Palomar said. “The biggest message I would like to send out to the community is to prepare, have some sort of action plan.”

Palomar feels worship centers should prepare for worst-case scenarios as they do for a fire (installing fire alarms, posting evacuation plans, buying insurance, etc.)

“Preparing doesn’t make you paranoid or hypervigilant,” Palomar said. “We do it every day. Just because you put your seatbelt on doesn’t mean it is doomsday.”

Palomar spent part of his presentation dealing with active shooters, including showing videos of well-known tragedies. Avoid-Deny-Defend, a strategy developed by a federal grant, as well as background checks, open carry, and site safety surveys were also discussed.

Palomar did not recommend pulling a fire alarm during a shooting situation, because firefighters are taught to drive past buildings with shooters.

He said the best way to handle panhandlers is to call the police, explaining the police have access to the best programs to help the needy.

“You’ve taken years to build your church, and it only takes one incident to tear it all down,” Palomar said.

Tim Fooks attended the seminar as a representative of Pioneer Drive Baptist Church, which started a safety team five years ago.

“I’ve been to four or five of these now, and this was by far the best one I’ve been to,” Fooks said. “It was more hands on.”

Irving City Councilman Oscar Ward, who attended as a representative of First Baptist, was proud the 250 seat Dupree Theater was packed. He predicted the next seminar, which Irving Police Department plans to hold in six months, will be held in a bigger venue.

“I thought it was a great presentation,” Ward said.

Palomar has offered the presentation before to churches. Saturday’s event was the first time he had given it as an open-forum seminar. It was also his last. Palomar, a 24-year IPD veteran, has spent the past nine years in the Community Services Division. Next month, Palomar transfers to the IPD Tactical Division or SWAT team.

“I love this job,” Palomar said. “I love reaching out to the community and seeing people. It was for the police department to not only build rapport with different people, business centers and worship centers, but also help them be safe.”