For decades, every church was that sacred place that could leave its doors open 24/7 and crime would be left at the doorstep. But times have changed, and so have churches and the criminal mentality toward them. These houses of worship have become a prime target.
In any given 10-day period throughout the year there will be dozens of crimes committed against Christian churches in the United States: crimes against property and crimes against persons. The exact number of crimes against houses of worship in the United States is a tough number to pin down. But raw data from the Justice Department shows tens of thousands of crimes occur on religious institution property every year.
Over the past two years that the Christian Security Network has tracked crimes against churches, it has documented dozens of violent incidents resulting in at least 20 homicides, almost 200 church arsons, hundreds of internal thefts, and thousands of property crimes resulting in more than $100 million in property losses.
If you as a police officer can convince the staffs of local churches that security measures are needed, and then help to implement them, you can make it that much more difficult for criminals to take advantage of these establishments. After your initial consultation with those in charge, you and your agency will save time and resources that would otherwise be spent on responding to, investigating, and solving these crimes.
So what can law enforcement do to make churches safer and more secure? Here are five things that will help.
Ensure the Church Understands the Extent of Its Risks
Most churches still operate under the assumption they did 30 years ago: that people, including criminals, view churches as sacred places to be respected. Those who work at these churches still feel that they can leave their doors unlocked at any time.
But what can now be found in churches makes them as appealing to criminals as any other target. Today, churches have valuables they never had in the past, from laptops to sound equipment to flat screen TVs. It is no longer just donations that need to be guarded. And unfortunately, more serious crimes including arson and violent attacks on individuals also occur on church property.
Yet in a 2008 survey of almost 4,000 churches, more than 75 percent stated that they did not have security or emergency plans in place. With more than 300,000 churches in the United States, that makes for a lot of potential victims.
When speaking with those who work at local religious institutions, citing crime statistics specifically related to churches and letting them know they are all potential targets will help them get over the "it can't happen here" mentality.