MISSION VIEJO (CBSLA) — Sitting through meetings about keeping congregations safe was not something that the faith-based community ever thought they would have to do.

But after the Texas church shooting and shootings at synagogues in Poway and Pittsburgh – just months apart – they did just that Thursday night in Mission Viejo.

“You do not choose the day,” Commander Ross Caouette, of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, said. “The day will choose you.”

Orange County sheriff’s deputies, Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation held a meeting attended by hundreds of church and synagogue members. Their biggest tip for safety was that everyone needed to report anything suspicious, no matter how small, to the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center.

“We can’t necessarily serve you to complete capacity unless you’re giving us information,” Caouette said.

Their number one concern in the area right now they said were places of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques.

“We are a soft target right now,” Robert Mielish, a protective security adviser with Homeland Security, said. “All 150-200 eyes are up here, right? And it’s the same way every Sunday. Guess what? You’re predictable.”

That threat is why a growing number of volunteers in religious communities are forming their own security teams inside their houses of worship.

“There are a lot of temples where the ministers are left to decide about security, and that’s not their job,” Marc Raissen, a security volunteer at his temple, said. “You need people in the community to volunteer and to form a security team.”

The biggest thing congregants can do to protect their places of worship, law enforcement said, was to get to know the people who attend services, make a plan and train for it and, most importantly, to report anything suspicious.


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