Offer Assistance and Review Plans
Most churches do not have plans to deal with emergencies such as medical assists, lost or missing children, alarm response, or violent incidents. Offering assistance in developing these plans emphasizes to the church both your agency’s desire to establish a relationship and the importance of certain security and emergency plans being in place.
As an added benefit, by having this dialogue you may find the church has some plans in place that may not be endorsed by your department and may actually violate state laws or local ordinances. Once you know this, you can advise a congregation how to adjust its plans accordingly.
For instance, many churches have formed "armed security teams," which are basically church members who have concealed carry permits (for those states that have concealed carry laws) and not much more training or experience. If a shooting incident should occur, having police officers enter a church where multiple civilians are pointing guns can be a bad situation.
Plus, many states or counties require certain licensing, training, and bonding once people in a private entity become "private security." Church administrators often don’t realize that even though they are on private property, laws regulating "security" personnel may apply to them.
Many church congregations are not aware that they may also utilize law enforcement assistance by hiring off-duty police officers as security for church services or special events. You may think everyone knows most officers work off-duty security details, but this concept is foreign to many churches. Once you inform them this is an option, many congregations may utilize this resource and successfully enhance their security. The more secure a church is, the better the chance of preventing a crime from happening there in the first place.
The problem of churches and crime is not going away. As the rest of society adopts better security measures, unless churches follow suit they will become an increasingly appealing opportunity for criminals of all kinds. Thirty years ago law enforcement had very few security concerns about churches, but as society changes, all houses of worship will face increasing threats and the need for greater law enforcement attention.
10 Days of Crimes Against Churches
As an example of what a 10-day period could bring for the church and police, consider some of these incidents that occurred within weeks of each other in the United States:
February 23, 2011—A church in Florida was going about its usual weekday business when a church custodian confronted a man he did not recognize. The subject pulled a knife and went after the custodian and pastor. Police were called and had to shoot the offender.
February 26, 2011—A woman working alone on a Saturday afternoon in a Georgia church was sexually assaulted and beaten.
March 4, 2011—A young pastor and his elderly assistant were working alone on a Friday in their Texas church when they were confronted by a robber who killed the pastor and brutally beat his assistant.
Along with these tragic crimes, another 51 occurred during the same time frame including burglaries, robberies, thefts (both internal and external), vandalism, vehicle break-ins, and acts of violence.
Jeffrey Hawkins works in management for American Military University in the Washtington DC area and is the former executive director of the Christian Security Network and chief security officer for a worldwide Christian ministry. He has been a law enforcement and security professional for 30 years.