Crime Prevention for Churches
Sometimes it may be hard to imagine houses of worship as targets for crime, but in reality, churches may pose more of an opportunity for crime than other facilities in our society. Those who commit criminal acts look for and take advantage of opportunity and aren’t usually concerned if the victim is a house of worship.
Burglary is most often the crime committed against churches. Reasons for this include:
- Churches have historically not utilized alarm systems.
- Because of numerous services, programs, and meetings, good security measures are not taken to assure that the building is secure before the last person leaves. Doors and windows are left unlocked or propped open. There is generally poor key control.
- Items usually associated with houses of worship such as sound systems, audio/visual equipment, computers, and religious ceremonial objects such as candelabras, crosses, and other items which could be made of gold or other valuable material are all very desirable to thieves. These items should be marked for identification.
Stealing from vehicles parked on the lot during church functions has also become a concern. Remind members to:
- Lock their vehicles.
- Don’t leave anything in the vehicle in plain sight that they would not want taken or would tempt a thief to break a window to gain entry.
Assigning staff to periodically monitor the lots is a deterrent to criminal activity in the parking areas.
Money handling has also become a security issue for churches. Traditionally money collected from church service offerings are not handled in the most security-conscious manner. It is not unusual for someone to take the money home and count it at a later date and then make a trip to the bank to make a deposit. Some churches will have a person or persons go to an empty room somewhere in the church and count the money without taking any measures to assure that the door leading to the common area of the church is closed or locked. Consider these ideas:
- Installation of a drop safe.
- Use of a security service that is in the business of picking up money and depositing it in a bank.
- If safes or professional money pickups are not available, consider having more than one person escort the money at all times. It should be immediately taken to a bank drop. Ideally, two persons would be in a vehicle with the deposit, and a second vehicle would follow occupied by two persons. The second vehicle should be offset at an angle at the bank drop location allowing the occupants to view the deposit.
Another issue concerning money which has become a security risk for churches is the practice of keeping cash in the church office. These funds are kept on hand for people, usually strangers or transients, who come into the church on weekdays and ask for help with food or gas or other reasons for which churches have traditionally allocated funds. Consider these alternatives:
- Develop a voucher system with local help shelters for food and lodging needs or gas needed to reach their final destination, eliminating the need for cash.
- Signage posted at the entrance to the building which states there is no cash on the premises.
This will provide help to those who have a legitimate need and will be a deterrent to those who frequent churches for cash.
Church officials should consider contacting their local law enforcement agencies to schedule a security survey which is normally provided at no cost. A security survey will provide the church with suggestions which will make them less likely to be the victim of burglary, theft, and vandalism. They will check things like locks, lighting, and landscaping and evaluate security measures already in place.