200103 Cops in Church 2

Lauderdale County Sheriff's deputy Cpl. Michael Gean made the suggestion that the department change its take-home car policy to allow off-duty officers to drive their vehicles to church. Gean attends Florence Boulevard Church of Christ. [MATT MCKEAN/TIMESDAILY]

Some church parking lots may have a Lauderdale County sheriff's patrol car in them on Sundays.

Sheriff Rick Singleton said the department now allows deputies to drive the vehicles to church when they are not on duty.

"We amended our take-home car policy to allow deputies off duty to drive patrol cars to church," Singleton said. "It's optional. They don't have to do it."

The sheriff said he made the decision because of reports of church shootings, including a shooting last weekend at a Texas church.

In that incident, two members of West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, were shot and killed by a gunman who opened fire during the church service, according to the Associated Press.

There were more than 240 people in the church at the time. 

Singleton said Cpl. Michael Gean suggested the amendment.

"This will get that same visual impact that you have with school resource officers parking in the parking lot of schools," Singleton said. "It might serve as a deterrent if someone approaches a church. I think some of the other area departments will allow that, too."

He said deputies already are allowed to have patrol cars when off duty.

"They typically drive them back and forth to their home," Singleton said. "They have assigned cars. But right now, with the way our work schedule is, every deputy is off every other Sunday, so this will provide that visual impact for churches."

Gean said as a deputy, he wants to take any action that can deter someone from making the decision to come into a church and harm people. If something as simple as having a patrol car in the church parking lot can be a deterrent, he wants to do it.

"You just never know now," he said. "We're considered on duty 24/7, so it's good to be able to do this. Any precaution can make a difference."

According to an Associated Press report, FBI hate crime statistics indicate incidents in churches, synagogues, temples and mosques increased 34.8% between 2014 and 2018.

State Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, said last week he will sponsor a bill in the 2020 legislative session to clarify that church members can use deadly force, if threatened.

Greer has tried to pass versions of the bill in the past. Those bills tried to expand Alabama's self-defense law by stating someone can use physical force if they reasonably believe someone is going to do harm in a church.

The bill made it through the House in 2018, but died in the Senate. It never got a vote in the House in the 2019 session.

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski

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