RELIGION

Church cops? Congregation eyes its own unusual police force

This Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 photo shows the sanctuary at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, in Birmingham, Ala. For the third year straight, the Alabama Legislature is considering a bill that would let the congregation, one of the largest in the state, create its own law enforcement department with sworn police officers. Experts say the move unprecedented in the United States. (AP Photo/Anthony Izaguirre)

This Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 photo shows the sanctuary at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, in Birmingham, Ala. For the third year straight, the Alabama Legislature is considering a bill that would let the congregation, one of the largest in the state, create its own law enforcement department with sworn police officers. Experts say the move unprecedented in the United States. (AP Photo/Anthony Izaguirre)  (The Associated Press)

One of Alabama's largest and wealthiest churches is trying to create its own police department in what experts say would be an unprecedented move.

Legislators are considering a bill that would let Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham establish a police force. Similar bills failed the last two years. This year's version is slated to be debated in the House before the session ends in May.

The church says it needs its own police officers to keep its members safe and because it often can't hire enough off-duty officers to oversee its events and two private schools.

Critics say having a department that answers to church officials could result in crimes not being reported. There are also constitutional questions at play.