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After Charleston killings, LI churches seek to step up security

Members of the Suffolk County Police Department hold

Members of the Suffolk County Police Department hold a security presentation for clergy members and houses of worship to encourage vigilance in the aftermath of the Charleston shooting.

Suffolk police said the demand from clergy has prompted them to hold a second security training workshop after the shooting deaths of nine people in a historic Charleston church.

The department held its most recent workshop last week, drawing about 137 clergy members and others, said Det. Lt. Robert Donohue.

Donohue, commander of the community response bureau, said about 10 clergy from the East End and other places who missed the workshop have called the department since then.

The second workshop is planned in July for East End clergy members.

"We live in a very safe community. We're not trying to create any hysteria. However, we want people to be aware of what happened in Charleston and have strategies to keep parishioners safe," he said.

On June 17, Dylann Roof sat for nearly an hour with a Bible study group of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, before opening fire and uttering racial epithets, police said.

Roof, 21, was charged with nine counts of murder and is being held on $1 million bail. He has confessed, law enforcement officials said.

In the wake of the shooting, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone asked police to reach out to clergy members to help bolster security, which prompted last week's workshop, Donohue said.

"I wanted to reassure our faith communities that this was on our mind, and we were focused on thinking about how we're protecting [them]," Bellone said.

At the workshop Thursday, Donohue said congregations can protect themselves by asking parishioners to greet visitors and others in the parking lots and sanctuaries.

Donohue also urged clergy members to install cameras, saying a video security system can cost as little as $1,000.

The Rev. Timothy Trent, pastor of Good News Church of God in Christ in Central Islip, said his roughly 80-member Pentecostal church plans to install cameras and create a security team.

"We have people in our city that are running scared. They don't want to go to church right now because of the shooting," he said.

Trent said he left last week's workshop encouraged about the steps congregations can take.

In Lindenhurst, Deacon Diane L. Neuls DeBlasio of St. Boniface Episcopal Church, who attended the workshop, said she understands the need to be proactive.

A technologist in the West Babylon school district, DeBlasio said she helped implement security procedures after 2012 shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, including security cameras and a card entry system.

"I never thought I'd have to do it at my church," she said. "I thought church was a safe haven, but that's kind of unrealistic in this day."

DeBlasio said the shooting has jolted members, but it won't deter the church from its mission.

"We are people of God," she said. "We've been tasked with a job to do for him, and we intend to keep on doing it."

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