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Police authority should remain with government

The leadership at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, a 4,000-member congregation in Birmingham, grew concerned about the safety of its membership several years ago after a shooting took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The church also operates a school and, like every other school leadership team in America, Briarwood officials fretted over procedures in case something similar happened on their campus. There has been endless debate throughout the nation over proposals to arm teachers or hire security personnel for schools in response to that threat, and while such tragic attacks have happened far too often, many of these reactions have been characterized as overkill. Briarwood s strategy is somewhat different. Instead of security guards, the church wants to create its own police force. And it appears that the Alabama Legislature has no objection to the proposal.

Perhaps it should, for many reasons. If a private organization such as a church is authorized to create its own police force armed with the same authority as other police officers working for governmental agencies, a precedent will be established, opening a door for other entities to seek the same authority. Critics say such a force would lead to cover-up of crime. It seems a bit of a reach, but others characterize the move as an encroachment on the First Amendment, as it extends a power usually held by government to a religious organization. On the other hand, the Vatican has two security forces, Gendarmerie Corps for law enforcement, and the Pontifical Swiss Guard, which handles security for Holy See. However, the Vatican is a sovereign state.

We understand Briarwood s concern about safety, not only for its school, but based on Dylann Roof s attack at a Charleston, South Carolina, church, and a shooting earlier this month that injured six at Cathedral of the Cross A.O.H. Church of God in Center Point, a few miles from Briarwood.

However, law enforcement authority should remain within the purview of government, and out of the hands of private entities. The Alabama House should deny this legislation, which has passed the Senate and a House committee. Otherwise, Gov. Kay Ivey should exercise her authority to kill the measure by veto.

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