LDS Church planning a new training center in Salt Lake City for its guards, complete with two firing ranges

(Jeremy Harmon | Tribune file photo) Security personnel for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints informs demonstrators marching across Main Street Plaza in Salt Lake City they are trespassing, during a protest Sunday, July 12, 2009. Church officials have confirmed they have plans to build a new training center for personnel in its church security department, complete with shooting ranges and facilities for instruction on the use of force.

The quiet south end of a massive warehouse in west Salt Lake City may one day ring with gunfire.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plans to build a new training center for its in-house security forces in an otherwise unremarkable church storehouse, complete with two shooting ranges and facilities for teaching about defensive tactics and the use of force.

Tentatively called the Church Security Department Training Center, the 67,600-square-foot facility would be remodeled from part of an existing bishops’ storehouse at 390 S. 5200 West in Salt Lake City, according to Feb. 8 architectural drawings leaked online and obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins confirmed the new training center was under consideration but said that no final construction plans had been approved.

He said the longstanding mission of the Church Security Department — protecting church leaders, employees and the millions of worshippers visiting downtown Salt Lake City’s Temple Square and other church venues worldwide — “requires frequent training,” calling for specialized space and equipment.

“Growing demand on these types of facilities by all security and law enforcement services has required that church security find or construct new space for their training,” Hawkins told The Tribune in a statement.

He said the center did not reflect any proposed increases in security staffing levels for the global faith nor any shift in approach to existing training, deployment or use of firearms.

Hawkins said church security officers, in their traditional support role to police, fire and other emergency personnel, would continue to be trained and certified “in many facets of security and emergency response, including medical care, verbal communication skills, explosives detection, firearms proficiency and light-touch approaches to de-escalate situations.”

Word of the planned facility comes just days before the faith convenes its semiannual General Conference, drawing tens of thousands to downtown Salt Lake City’s Conference Center amid increased security for sessions Saturday and Sunday.

No timetable for construction of the church security training center is included in the 149-page computer-rendered blueprints, which were produced by FFKR Architects, a leading Salt Lake City firm that has also designed several temples and other church facilities.

Plans show the center would be built into the south end of what the church calls its Bishops’ Central Storehouse First Park Building, a structure that property records say was constructed in 2009. The storehouse is located just east of Deseret Transportation, a trucking subsidiary that serves the church’s philanthropic operations, and south of an R.C. Willey Home Furnishings warehouse at 256 S. 5500 West.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Blueprints indicate the training center would have at least two classrooms, along with several rooms and facilities dedicated to specialized security instruction.

One large hall and at least 10 smaller adjoining rooms are labeled for use in “force on force training,” plans indicate. Another large room would be used for “defensive tactics and physical training.” One area would feature a “use of force simulator,” according to blueprints.

Two shooting ranges — one 35 yards in length, the other 100 yards long, presumably for handguns and rifles, respectively — would occupy most of the new center’s north end, plans show. Designs call for 12 firing lanes on each range, along with ballistic ceilings, bullet traps and a complex system of suspended baffles to dampen noise.

The training center would be coed, judging from designs for locker rooms and other areas for men and women.

The rest of the 469,440-square-foot storehouse would remain in use, though separated from the training center by fortified walls and doors requiring keycard access, plans say.

Links to the blueprints were posted March 15 in an online discussion board called LDS Freedom Forum by someone identified as a subcontractor on the project. The link was redacted a week later, the original poster wrote, after the project’s general contractor told subcontractors the church had requested confidentiality.

FFKR and other Utah-based contractors involved in reviewing and certifying aspects of the plans declined to comment, citing privacy policies for their clients.

Until being contacted last week by The Tribune, top city officials were unaware the new facility was being contemplated within city limits, including Mayor Jackie Biskupski, key members of her executive staff and the city’s top planner.

“The city has no knowledge of this,” said Biskupski’s spokesman Matthew Rojas, who noted that no formal applications had been filed as yet at City Hall.

Hawkins said the lack of information reflected the fact the church’s plans were still being considered.

As proposed, the center would fall within the boundaries of the Utah Inland Port, carved out of Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant by state lawmakers in 2018 as the future site of an advanced logistics and shipping hub. Under laws creating the trade zone, the Utah Inland Port Authority would have final say over approval of the church’s new training center after the city’s planning and zoning review process.

The site is on one of several large swaths held by the church inside the inland port.

Hawkins said officials chose the training center location because the church already owned the property in question and that the decision had no connection to the port.

The Salt Lake City-based faith has a longstanding policy of not commenting on the operations of its security department, which is housed in the downtown Church Office Building.

Hawkins said church security forces include about 200 trained professional officers worldwide, along with some volunteers, including missionaries who staff security check-in desks at events or for church buildings.

The church spokesman said security forces trained at the new Salt Lake City facility would not be deployed overseas.

Church security officers are generally drawn from the ranks of former law enforcement officials, several sources said. They reportedly add to their existing training with courses through the state Department of Public Safety’s Peace Officer Standards and Training program.

Hawkins said all but a few of the church’s full-time security officers are trained in the use of firearms, though he added that such personnel would carry weapons only as their assignments require or allow. Those who do must undergo background and mental-fitness checks, he said.

Church policy, meanwhile, advises worshippers not to carry firearms on church property.

Section 21.2.4 of the church’s Handbook 2 says that “churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world. The carrying of lethal weapons, concealed or otherwise, within their walls is inappropriate except as required by officers of the law.”

Under Utah law, the church has officially notified the state’s Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) of its intention to prohibit firearms in its houses of worship. The church also issued a public notice to that effect as recently as Jan. 9, according to BCI, with ads in Salt Lake City’s two largest daily newspapers.

Documents from the private technical contractor RLS indicate the church has a state-of-the-art Global Security Operation Center inside its Salt Lake City headquarters, allowing its security officers to monitor sites in more than 35 countries via video link and “respond in real time to emergencies and security threats to their missionary and ministry staff.”

The church’s Global Security Operation Center reportedly also includes a dispatch center and some training facilities, according to San Francisco-based RLS, and connects to a “secondary crisis room” in the Church Office Building, where the offices of regional church security officers are also located.

Jobs posted on the church website, lds.org, for employment in the security department suggest its primary duty is “to promote a safe and peaceful environment in which the mission of the church may be accomplished.” This includes ensuring “a tranquil environment for the general authorities, employees, visitors and patrons.”

Officers, according to job listings, are asked to maintain “a calm and professional manner while responding to a variety of security-related situations such as fire, intrusion and panic alarms, disruptive or problem individuals, unauthorized entry, bomb threats, violence in the workplace issues, dealing with mental subjects or unruly individuals, natural disasters, etc.”

Job requirements also include “temple worthiness,” meaning compliance with church tenets as verified by an interview with local lay leaders.

Hawkins, in his statement to The Tribune, said the role of church security “has always been very different from that of law enforcement,” focused on what he called “de-escalation and light-touch training.”

“In the event of an emergency,” Hawkins said, "church security contacts fire, police and other emergency response agencies and supports them in their role.”