Report: Crimes against churches on the rise

Experts discuss the steps worship centers can take to mitigate threats

Earlier this month, Christian Security Network, an organization dedicated to helping churches and other Christian affiliated facilities become safer and more secure, released a report detailing crimes against Christian organizations in 2010.

The report, "Crimes against Christian Organizations in the United States -2010," which was independently compiled by the organization, shows that many crimes against churches increased between 2009 and 2010. Among the crimes that saw a sharp increase in 2010 were burglary, theft and internal theft, which combined costs churches nearly $20 million in damage. Though it only increased slightly in 2010, incidents of arson were also costly to churches nationwide, inflicting more than $3 million in damage, according to the report.

While the Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks crimes against churches and other houses of worship in its annual report on hate crime statistics, CSN Executive Director Jeffrey Hawkins says they don't accurately reflect all of the crimes that occur against Christian organizations. According to the FBI's hate crime statistics for 2009, 1,376 hate crimes were motivated by religious bias. Of those crimes, 70.1 percent were anti-Jewish, 9.3 were anti-Islamic, 4 percent were anti-Catholic, and 2.9 percent were anti-Protestant. The other 13 percent of crimes that were motivated by a religious bias were against another religion or multiple religions.

Hawkins, who also serves as manager of security management outreach for American Military University, said that there was such a disparity between these hate crime statistics and raw data from the U.S. Justice Department on crimes that occurred on church property that CSN decided to compile its own figures.

"We verify every incident that happens, either through a news source, a police blog or some other credible source," Hawkins explained. "So, the 1,783 incidents we reported for 2010 and the 1,237 the year before, we verify every single incident."

Hawkins added that even CSN's crime figures are conservative and that the underreporting of crimes against churches is troubling in and of itself.

"There are a far greater number of property crimes than we could ever track, so what strikes us is that there is such a problem and that it's so underreported, both in terms of what the government reports and really in terms of what the media reports," Hawkins said.

According to the report, the most financially damaging crime against churches in 2010 was internal theft, which cost churches more than $15 million. To help prevent this, Hawkins recommends that churches implement the financial safeguards that any other business would.

"I think the problem that churches have is (they have) kind of a trust everybody mentality and we see this even in terms of doing background checks on people and everything else. These thefts are being committed by everyone from the church leadership down to the volunteer treasurer. There really isn't any one position that stands out," he said. "The average amount for these (thefts), over the past couple of years, have ranged from $200,000 to $300,000 per occurrence.

One of the challenges for churches, according to Hawkins, is that they are different from other businesses and organizations in that they are not out to catch and prosecute those who have committed a crime against them. Oftentimes, they want to help someone that has been caught trying to break into their facilities.

"A church wants to be seen as doing good not for being the victim of crime, especially if the crime is an internal crime." Hawkins explained.

In addition to internal theft, burglaries were another costly crime for churches in 2010. The CSN report tallied 970 burglaries at churches in 2010, resulting in more than $2 million in damage.

"Churches have great things to steal that they haven't had in the past 20 or 30 years. They have got laptops, flat screen TVs, sound equipment and music boards, those are the kinds of things we are seeing being stolen out of churches during a burglary," Hawkins said.

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