In recent years, many facilities employed armed security for the first time. Armed guards now have a presence at some church, synagogue, and mosque services, and at nonprofit agencies that serve vulnerable communities.

If your organization is considering whether to hire armed security professionals, the decision may weigh heavily on you. Take time to acknowledge those feelings for yourself and discuss them openly with your organization. The question of whether to hire a professional security provider armed with deadly weapons isn’t just a business or financial decision; it’s an ethical and moral decision with many complexities.

Where To Begin

Half of the nation’s churches now have some form of armed security presence, Christianity Today reports. Experts say congregations have a heightened awareness of security after high-profile attacks on places of worship. The 2015 Emanuel AME Church shooting in South Carolina, which killed nine people, and the 2019 shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue that left 12 dead are just two examples.

Some nonprofits in communities targeted by violence have also engaged armed security. Anti-Asian hate crimes rose more than 300 percent last year, and Black Americans remain the most targeted group by hate crimes in most cities, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. Earlier this year, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced nearly $16 million in grants to boost safety and security measures at buildings owned or operated by nonprofits that face the risk of hate crimes or attacks because of their work. The grants can be used for security training, among other things.

Begin with a vulnerability assessment to understand the security risks your organization faces. As part of the assessment, document your facility design and layout, as well as local partnerships with law enforcement, medical personnel and other first responders.

CISA, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, offers a list of questions for houses of worship to consider as they assess security needs:

  • What are your threats and vulnerabilities?
  • What is the likelihood of any given threat to occur?
  • What are the consequences if those threats occur?
  • What is your community’s tolerance for the associated consequences?
  • What is your community’s attitude toward security practices?
  • What personnel resources do you have to direct, manage, and oversee security operations?
  • What is your budget to support security initiatives, both immediate and long-term?

Use of armed security raises ethical concerns, including issues around justice and equity. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020 brought new attention to policing and security practices in communities that have been marginalized. The American Civil Liberties Union defines racial profiling as “the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual's race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.” A law enforcement agent can include a person acting in a policing capacity for public or private purposes, according to the ACLU.

Before you invest in armed security, consider the harm it could cause residents or community members. How can you minimize potential harm? How can you minimize unnecessary contact between members of vulnerable groups and armed security? Reach out to employees, the community and local advocacy organizations for their input. What security measures at your facility would community members appreciate? Which ones could infringe on their rights or potentially endanger them? Consider before an incident happens what your organization would and would not report to law enforcement, taking into account any regulations for your facility.

“Decide whether the presence of a weapon may escalate the possible use of force and violence which otherwise may not occur,” the Anti-Defamation League advises in “Protecting Your Jewish Institution: Security Strategies For Today’s Dangerous World.”

Creating An Armed Security Relationship

If your organization chooses to hire an armed security contractor, you’ll need to consider many things in the contracting process. Here are some of the main issues you’ll need to examine to establish a sound contracting relationship.

Establish that the contractor has all necessary licenses to operate in your jurisdiction and has enough insurance for its responsibilities. Check general liability insurance coverages, workers’ compensation insurance, professional liability insurance including sexual harassment, and automobile liability insurance. It is preferable for the contractor’s liability policies to name your organization as an additional insured. Check to see if there’s a charge for this.

Check the contracting firm’s references thoroughly.

Scrutinize the contract with legal counsel and your insurance agent to ensure the security firm will bear the desired amount of responsibility for risk. Ensure the contract has the flexibility to meet your needs and has reasonable criteria on both sides for terminating the contract if it becomes necessary.

Ensure the contract covers expectations for qualifications, training, and equipment for security personnel that serve your organization. Address in the contract when and where security guards will work and how they will interact with your team members. Define when it would be acceptable for guards to draw or use a weapon on your property and what use-of-force standards will apply. Explore how guards would interact with local law enforcement on scene and coordinate with law enforcement if needed.

Carefully evaluate cost. How often will the contractor bill, and does that coincide with your organization’s financial needs? How are rates calculated? The Anti-Defamation League recommends paying a unique hourly rate per guard. Do invoices list wage and bill rates for every guard? What additional costs might your organization face for equipment and supplies? How will the contractor handle it if guards’ pay rate needs to be adjusted? In an era of upward wage pressure, it’s important to know if security staff pay raises will get passed on to your organization.

Learn all applicable jurisdictional laws on concealed carry. Ensure all policies and procedures in the contractor relationship and at your organization comply with those laws.

Create operating procedures around incident response and reporting, chain of command, communication, and expectations for patrols.

Keep the communication flowing. Be honest and direct when challenges arise and solicit the contractor’s ideas for how to address any issues. Speak up about what’s going well, too. It’s natural to default only to talk about problems in security, but if a contractor serves you well, noting the strengths of their work can keep morale high and bolster the relationship. A point person with your organization may wish to schedule periodic conversations with the contractor for open communication about the work and the contracting relationship.

The process of determining whether to hire armed security and selecting a contractor can be challenging for any organization. But if your nonprofit explores the above issues thoroughly, the effort will provide a deeper knowledge of your organization’s risks, vulnerabilities, and strengths. You will also have a greater understanding of how members of your community feel about armed security, and more ability to address their needs and concerns. All of these assets, in the long term, should help your organization spend less time on the details of security and more time meeting the needs of the people you serve.


“Mitigating Attacks on Houses of Worship” Security Guide, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency

“Protecting Your Jewish Institution: Security Strategies for Today’s Dangerous World,” Anti-Defamation League

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