CINCINNATI (ABP) — More than 1,200 crimes were committed against Christian churches and ministries in 2009, according to an unofficial tally by a firm that specializes in church security.
The Christian Security Network report found 1,237 total incidents targeting churches in all 50 states, including 12 homicides, 38 other violent incidents and $24 million in estimated property loss.
"It is disheartening to see all these incidents and loss of life in churches in 2009 and even sadder because we know 2010 isn't going to be any different unless the status quo changes," said Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Christian Security Network. The Cincinnati-based company provides services to make Christian churches and organizations more secure.
The most common crime committed against churches is burglary. Sixty-two percent of the incidents in the CSN report — 779 in all — were burglaries. The most expensive, however, is embezzling — internal theft committed over a period of time, usually years. Such incidents, according to the report, cost churches nearly $14 million in 2009.
Other 2009 incidents included three sexual assaults, three kidnappings and 98 arsons.
The report said counting the number of crimes against churches is difficult for several reasons. There is no mandatory reporting of such crimes to any government agency. The FBI tracks hate crimes against religious organizations, but many of the crimes involving churches are not included in hate-crimes statistics because bias against Christians is not a motive in the crimes.
Many crimes against churches also go unreported, because the congregation forgives the offender or wants to avoid embarrassment or bad publicity.
Besides the 12 murders, violent crimes in churches in 2009 included five attempted homicides, one rape and two attempted rapes. The 12 murder victims ranged in age from 14 months to 67 years old. Seven were male and five were female.
Many of the organizations cited in the report experienced multiple incidents. One particular church in Cincinnati, for example, was burglarized 20 times during a six-month period.
A veteran security specialist with nearly 30 years experience, Hawkins said criminals nowadays are less likely than in the past to avoid churches simply because they are sacred spaces. Today, he said, criminals are more inclined to view houses of worship simply as "soft" targets. Despite that, he added, 75 percent of churches polled in 2008 said they did not have any security or emergency plan.
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Hawkins said with a few precautions and training, many crimes included in the report could have been averted. "The church has to start taking responsibility for the safety of their staff, volunteers, and congregation and [become] good stewards of the gifts God has provided," he said.
Hawkins said every church should have plans in place to respond at minimum to situations in which the church must be evacuated, people inside the facility must shelter in place due to natural or man-made disasters, for medical emergencies involving people inside the building, for children who go missing and for situations requiring lockdown of the facility.
While smaller churches automatically think of expense when it comes to security, Hawkins said a big part of any security plan is awareness. He suggested churches use free resources, such as talking to local law-enforcement officials, fire departments and EMS personnel as well as meeting with the church's insurance provider.
Christian Security Network offers a free weekly newsletter and conducts seminars around the country and over the Internet to help churches and ministry organizations develop a plan.
A first step is a process of risk assessment, which typically includes interviews with staff and volunteers, analysis of local crime trends and review of any past threats or present perceived threats.
Hawkins said sometimes pastors tell him they don't need a security plan in place because they trust God to protect their congregation. He responds that we live in a fallen world and that the Bible says Christians are to resist evil.
Other church leaders fear that by adopting security measures they make their congregation seem less open and inviting to visitors, but Hawkins said everyone should have a right to worship without having to worry about whether a child in the nursery or a car in the parking lot is safe.
Hawkins said it is unknown whether the economic downturn in the United States has contributed to increased property crimes against churches.
–Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.