News Archive

Crime Against Churches

by msecadm4921

The 80,000 places of worship in the UK are big business – the trouble is, they are big business for criminals too.

Recorded crime against places of worship in England and Wales reached more than 18,000 offences in 1999. (The latest available figures) According to the Home Office, this represents just 22 per cent of actual crime against places of worship. There is a very worrying rise in the number of assaults on the clergy. Six priests have been murdered in the last four years. In 1999 clergy or church workers, of many denominations, were injured in some 450 violent attacks. National Churchwatch began in April 2000 after several churchwatch schemes sprang up around the country and a need was recognised for some co-ordination and idea exchange. Three large schemes had been running since the early 1990s and have reduced crime against places of worship by more that 60 per cent in their areas. Churchwatch worked, but sometimes people were re-inventing the wheel time and time again when they could have learnt from the mistakes of the existing churchwatches. Nick Tolson was appointed the National Churchwatch Co-ordinator and the organisation was sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance. The Home Office fully supported the scheme and produced the video, Faith Secured with National Churchwatch to highlight the problem. At the end of 2000, the Methodist Insurance, URC Insurance, Baptist Insurance and ANSVAR also chose to sponsor National Churchwatch. Later this year National Churchwatch will become a charity. We are seeking a further national sponsor to join with the insurance companies, preferably from the security industry. We have to stop this crime wave, and we cannot do it alone!
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Problems
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Crime in places of worship is nothing new. Most people, when asked, usually mention stealing lead off the church roof and it is true that this sort of crime has gone on for centuries. In the last ten years or so, churches have become targets for criminals who see them as easy pickings. Places of worship suffer from two forms of crime: repetitive, localised, low level crime such as criminal damage and petty theft; and serious crimes such as assaults on staff and antique theft. The most common by far is the low level crime. Usually this involves weekly or daily window smashing, graffiti and the like similar to the problems that schools suffer constantly. The small moneyboxes in the wall of a church are prised open for the few pence within them, or the charity boxes are stolen from next to the postcard rack. Most churches accept this as inevitable if they wish to open during the day. What is worse is that crime reduction officers often visit and say: ‘Well, if you do insist on being open, then you are going to have problems.’ The usual result of these petty problems is that the church officers feel obliged to lock the doors which prevents a community asset from being used by the community. You can understand their thinking. These crimes are probably costing £20 to £30 a week. Over the year this could add up to over £1,500. That is a lot of money to a church who may only have a congregation of 30 people, most of whom are elderly. The only solution, it seems, is to lock up. In 1994, the Bath & Wells Diocese (covering all Somerset) surveyed 117 churches in the Bath area, both rural and urban. They asked many questions on crime and whether churches opened or closed during the day. The survey revealed a startling anomaly. Churches locked during the day suffered marginally less crime than the open churches, but the cost of that crime was ten times more than the churches that stayed open. To a security professional perhaps it is obvious. A criminal at a building he wants to enter will use almost any means to get in. Most churches have porches which hides him from prying eyes; out comes the crowbar and £5,000 of damage is caused to the medieval door he jemmies open. Inside, he goes to the money box, prises it open, causing £100 damage and steals the £5 inside. Had the church been open he would have caused just £100 of damage for the £5. Had the moneybox had a cheap £2.50 padlock on it, then just £2.50 worth of damage would have been caused. You can probably see where I am heading!
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Getting away with it’
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Of course, some people may say that you shouldn’t let them get away with it, and they are right. If you have a repetitive thief who has hit the money box a couple of times, you start paying attention. Empty the money box twice a day, put a sticker next to it that says, ‘Stewards, remember to switch off alarm before opening box’, put a card in the door that says, ‘CCTV is operating in this area for your safety’, put a poster in the porch saying ‘Churchwatch scheme operating’. If the offences continue, start involving the police and security companies who may put a special constable in the area for a day or two, or the security company might be able to ‘demonstrate’ the CCTV in your church for a couple of weeks, or provide alarms. The list of ideas are almost limitless, so the attitude that ‘nothing can be done’ can be overcome, both from the church officials and police’s points of view.
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Personal safety
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Dealing with the more serious crimes is not so easy. When it comes to personal safety, National Churchwatch are the only group in the country who specialise in teaching the clergy and churchworkers how to be safe within their working environment. Sometimes this can prove difficult. A bishop recently said to me: ‘Many clergy do not see themselves at risk or do not want to be seen to be so.’ This is the crux of the problem. How do you help people who do not want to be helped’ One of the ways that National Churchwatch deals with this is to target clergy families. If the member of the clergy won’t play ball, he or she will often recognise that their family is at risk from callers at the door. We always ask: ‘Who answers the door when you are out at the church council meeting” Our seminars for clergy families are often well attended by the clergy, so it is a way around the problem. Once a member of the clergy or church has accepted that there is a problem then there is a lot of sensible specialised advice available to show them how to be safe. In the end, the hardest thing to teach members of the clergy is how to close the front door on someone, and, for members of the church, when to run away! Other serious crimes we are tackling include antique theft. Every year, thousands of items of furniture are being stripped from UK places of worship. Our cultural heritage is being slowly eroded away, yet very little is being done. Many items of furniture in a church (Usually a Church of England church) have been purchased back in the 16th century for a practical reason, not bought as an investment. Most of these items are unprotected and are not photographed or recorded, or if they are they are, to a poor standard. It is a great frustration when some extremely valuable items are stolen just because a church would not pay £150 for an alarm to protect that item, and the record of it is unusable on the internet. National Churchwatch is encouraging churches to use Object ID as the standard for recording the property. It is encouraging digital recording and good descriptions being used to identify the property. Last year, every Anglican Church insured by Ecclesiastical Insurance (15,000 churches) were issued a free microdot kit. Slowly we are winning the battle but every week I hear of chairs, tables and chandeliers disappearing. A lot of churches could benefit from monitored burglar alarms: not only from a personal attack point of view, but from the obvious burglary point of view. Most churches simply believe that alarms do not work, or cost a lot of money or cannot be tailor-made for them. They do not realise the benefit of linking a burglar alarm with a fire alarm. One or two churches a year are lost to arson attacks. Many more suffer damage. This affects the whole community when it happens.
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Good to be a bad guy’
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Another problem is that the church officers are often elderly people who will not attend alarm call-outs in the early hours. National Churchwatch has been looking at whether security companies could act as keyholders for a number of churches. Also, security companies could assist churches with drug and alcohol misuse in graveyards. The security firm could patrol the graveyard in the evening and turf out unpleasant characters. That way, it is not the church seen as the ‘bad guys’, but the security company, which is good for the church as they may want to help these people at other times. In summary, places of worship have to wake up to the fact that security is going to become a necessity if they wish to continue to operate as they do. As commercial premises, schools and homes become more secure the criminals are going to move on to the easy target. In reality the only really easy target worth attacking is your local place of worship.
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Below, more items on church security, beginning with CCTV in a cathedral.
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Winchester Cathedral houses priceless treasures – including church plate and works of art. A newly installed CCTV system protects those assets and delivers other, non-security benefits. Cameras monitor the flow of visitors over the old tiles in the East End of the church to ensure they are not damaged; and musical staff use CCTV during services to to ensure correct musical timing. The cameras are monitored from a dedicated rooms where the racks are housed, and the verger’s vestry. To achieve the several uses of the system, three Baxall ZKX3/J remote keyboards with three-axis joystick have been installed to provide telemetry control to the dome cameras fitted inside the cathedral. The keyboards have been designed to work with Baxall ZMX Plus multiplexers and ZTX6 telemetry matrices via the Bax-net (RS485) network system, all installed at the cathedral. Cameras can also be monitored from the kiosk at the entrance via a Baxall remote switcher and monitor. Michael Hyland Associates were the consultants. Pictured is the ZKX3/J remote keyboard, installed by Whitwams Sound & Vision and supplied by VIS, by the organ to provide a view of proceedings in the cathedral.
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All faiths
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The Safer Merseyside Partnership has developed a pilot project to reduce crime and the fear of crime to vulnerable ministers of all faiths. Former Merseyside Police Officer John Mills will deliver crime risk assessments to ministers and places of worship. He will administer a small grants fund to help pay for security improvements, and set up a Merseyside and Region Church Watch to ensure all crime is recorded and receives an appropriate response. He will work from the Old Hall Street offices of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, alongside Business Crime Direct. John adds: ‘I want to build up an intelligence data base so that persistent offenders can be targeted.’
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Insurer’s voice
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The days when even a criminal would think twice about stealing from a church are over, say church insurers Ecclesiastical Direct. Some 4,000 claims against them in 1998 cost more than £3million – £1.2million for vandalism, £1.4million for theft, and £700,000 for arson. That’s ten churches a day hit by crime. Ecclesiastical Direct insure on a new for old basis, so if a church’s priceless 18th century goblet is stolen, the insurers cannot replace it with another 18th century goblet. The insurers have a network of surveyors to give practical advice to the 16,400 Anglican churches and cathedrals on their books. ‘There’s a wrong assumption that we ask churches to lock their doors. That’s not to say churches don’t decide to lock their doors. We suggest they make an area within the church a fortress. Most churches have a vestry. Get all their valuables into there, probably within a safe, with a good sturdy lock on the door.’ Other ways of deterring church crime cost nothing:
l bringing out candlesticks and the like from the secure vestry only for services, and otherwise putting cheap copies on show; <br>
l locking sheds;<br>
l ensuring as much use of the church as possible, so human eyes watch for anyone suspicious.
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Ecclesiastical Direct say of CCTV for churches: ‘CCTV is an excellent way of protecting a property but the problem is it comes at a price.’ Many parishes cannot afford such security. Rural parishes with well-off worshippers are more likely to drum up enough money or business sponsorship for CCTV than deprived areas. However, C of E churches in the countryside are if anything less secure and more tempting to criminals than churches in built-up areas. <br><br>
Other views
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Most of a place of worship is of no interest to a thief or vandal, says Robert Penrice, Director of ARC Alarms, giving the installer side of securing churches. Most in need of security are the rooms such as the sacristry, holding valuables – whether the church silver or guitars. One of Mr Penrice’s installations, St Chad’s RC Cathedral, Birmingham, has CCTV, monitored on the premises, besides alarms. That central Birmingham site has not only a place of worship but a convent, car park and library, and offices, with all the equipment that go with such buildings. He reports that public address systems, and (ironically) CCTV systems are particular targets for intruders, and therefore in need of protection, such as movement sensors. Joe Francis, of County Durham fencing company Ulysses Security, reports that churches are slow to appreciate the need for fences, both around the perimeter and individual items. One exception is the Salvation Army; many of the Army’s buildings house charity shops, that suffer break-ins through the roof, so Ulysses have fitted anti-scaling devices on rooves.

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