Church Crime Presents A Growing Problem For Police And The Community

A recent report showed that local law enforcement departments were busy last year handling crimes at churches. The Christian Security Network reported more than 1,200 crimes in churches during 2009, ranging from homicides and kidnappings to arson and burglary. The total loss in property damage topped $24 million.

Most churches are welcoming of unknown visitors and often make their facilities available throughout the week to various community organizations. Clergy and parishioners generally are not used to working closely with the police and security providers to harden their churches against criminals. But that mindset may be changing.

“People want to be protected, especially at church, and as we have seen from incidents in 2009, criminals don’t care that they are targeting a church – they are seen as soft targets,” said Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Christian Security Network.

ADT’s public safety advisor, Patrick Fiel, said that unfortunately churches need to start looking at security and the safety of their members the same way a government organization or private corporation does.

“Most churches still use key locks to guard sanctuaries, offices, classrooms and other facilities and over time, keys are lost, shared and copied so that there is no way of knowing who controls one,” he said. “An electronic access system with card keys can limit access and the cards can be easily removed from the system if reported lost or stolen. A church can also issue cards that allow temporary or restricted access to vendors or groups using the facility.”

He said cameras placed to watch parking lots, building perimeters, playgrounds and interior offices – especially anyplace where money is kept – can deter criminals and recorded video can provide valuable information to share with law enforcement when a crime is committed. Video intercoms are useful in identifying visitors seeking entry after dark or when contributions are being readied for bank deposit.

These security measures can be placed discreetly and unobtrusively so has to not interfere with the aesthetics of the church. And Fiel said there are a number of low-technology solutions, such as lighting, fencing and landscape modifications that can improve security.

“Church officials need to take these crimes very seriously and work closely with their local law enforcement officials and security experts to make sure they are no longer considered ‘soft’ targets,” Fiel said. “And that can begin by asking for a security risk analysis.”

-- PSW Staff

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