Birmingham area church looks to form police department

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala (WIAT) — A Birmingham area church is one step closer to being able to form its own police department after a vote by the Alabama Senate this week.

The bill that would allow Briarwood Presbyterian Church to hire officers will now head to the Alabama House of Representatives.

Between church operations and several school buildings, thousands of people are on the church’s various campuses each day. Leaders want to make sure folks are protected in light of recent shootings at churches and schools.

The Alabama ACLU thinks the measure is unconstitutional.

“This bill takes what it is a core governmental function, law enforcement, and places it in the hands of a religious church,” said Randall Marshall, with the Alabama ACLU.

Church leaders declined an on camera interview, but told CBS 42 news that currently it hires off-duty officers. Sometimes the extra officers can be hard to come by, according to Matt Moore, an administrator at Briarwood Presbyterian Church.

Moore said the church has no plans to build a jail, a dispatch center, or hire a wealth of officers. He’d like to hire a full-time chief to coordinate with local authorities in case of an emergency.

Any officers hired by the church would need state training and certification. Police would have arrest powers and be able to carry a firearm on property.

Moore said the proposed law is similar to one that allows college campuses to hire police officers. Through memorandums of understanding, major investigations and prosecution would still be left up to local authorities in the three jurisdictions where the church has buildings.

Those areas include Shelby County, Jefferson County, and municipality of Vestavia Hills.

Folks in the community said they supported the idea, but did find it a little strange.

“You want to have separation of church and state, I understand, but, you’re going to react negatively if someone were to come into the school and shoot up everyone or cause any problems within the church,” said Kimrey Black.

Black attended BPC and also went to school there. She recognizes the benefits of having a trained and certified officer so close to protect children and families.

The Alabama ACLU was unaware of any other cases where a church was able to form its own police department. Marshall has serious questions about the proposal.

“It allows the church to determine who gets arrested, when they get arrested, what laws they’re going to be arrested for,” said Marshall.

If the bill passes the House of Representatives, it still requires a signature from the governor.

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