At the Frontline: Christian Security Network Executive Director Jeffrey Hawkins

Security industry vet discusses how churches can protect themselves against copper and internal theft


One of the biggest obstacles that the church has to overcome is that trusting, forgiving nature. What makes a religious group a religious group is that by their very nature they are supposed to be trusting and forgiving, but they need to take the same accounting and check and balances that any other business that handles large or even small amounts of money would. They can't entrust it all in one person. There isn't another business out there that would operate that way and some of these churches are taking in thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars and still don't have the proper checks and balances in place and then they find that people that they've trusted, sometimes even long term staff members or volunteers, have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars. We've found that even so far this year that (internal thefts) are the highest dollar loss crime that churches are experiencing and the average is still between $200,000 and $300,000 per incident (according to CSN's "Crimes Against Christian Organizations in the United States" report). Any investigator or fraud examiner will tell you that the ones you catch are only about 20 percent of what are out there. Most of these crimes go undetected.

With copper thefts taking off again, what can churches do to protect their air conditioning equipment?

They're stealing everything that is made of copper from churches. It's not just the air conditioning units. We've seen them take downspouts, gutters and even copper markings off of gravestones. Somebody even climbed up on top of a church and stole a cross made of copper so they're taking anything made of copper, but air conditioning units are by far the main target. There are several things that churches can do. One is to put a protective cage around the air conditioning unit or units, whether they build it themselves or buy one that is pre-fabricated. Some of the other common things that we recommend are keeping the area well lit and if they do have a CCTV system, to have a camera trained on that area and put up signs saying that the area is under surveillance. There is also a way to hook up your alarm with the unit's Freon line.

Another thing that churches fall down on with regards to copper thefts is meeting with their insurance company and finding out exactly what is covered and what is not covered if they do have such a loss. We're seeing churches lose as much as $60,000 in these air conditioning unit thefts and then they find out that it's either not covered or they have a really, really high deductible because air conditioning units aren't considered part of the building. Security is never 100 percent so if you do have a loss you want to make sure your church policy is going to cover it.

What are churches doing as it relates to ever growing problem of data and cyber security?

We haven't seen it happen at the rate that it is happening in other industries or sectors. We believe it will probably happen sooner or later, but churches, while they carry a lot personal data on their congregation, they don't carry a lot of banking or credit card information. That will probably change because many churches are now accepting things like online donations or even electronic units that people can use to give their donations in the church instead of handing over cash or a check. As technology enters into the religious environment you can bet that cybercrime will follow.

Despite their open nature, do you envision churches adopting more sophisticated security systems in the future such as enterprise-wide access control and surveillance systems?

There are some churches out there that have already started heading in that direction, installing IP-addressable cameras and starting to talk about integration of even facial recognition programs because of sex offenders or people that have been known to cause problems or things like that. Most churches deal with children, Sunday school or classes or things of that nature and the technology end of it is really starting to become an important aspect of their environment. Churches are just really breaking into that technology now, but if they are going to keep their open and inviting feeling without putting up metal detectors and gates and things like that, they are going to have to start using things like video analytics, optical facial recognition and card access control in the future. And we're trying to educate them now on what that actually entails.