INCREASE IN CHURCH-TARGETED VIOLENCE LEADS TO INCREASE IN SECURITY
Special Report by Charles Jurries
Dec. 14, 2009
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Violence can hit anyone, anywhere. So what happens when the unthinkable happens in a place long thought to be a safe refuge from any sorts of wrong: a place of worship?
This is a question that a few security groups across the nation are now trying to figure out.
According to the Christian Security Network, in the first half of 2009, there were 427 recorded incidents in 42 states involving church security, including six homicides and over $6.3 million in estimated property losses.
In a blog post at the Christian Security Network web site, Executive Director Jeff Hawkins said that churches are at much at risk for crimes as any other organization that invites the public into it.
“There has always been this idea that churches are generally exempt from crime and that it “just doesn’t happen here.” And in the past that was probably true—churches were held as a place of reverence and not a place targeted by criminals,” Hawkins said.
Eric Spacek, senior church risk manager at GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines, Iowa, spoke out on the topic of church violence in an online column entitled “Prepeare your church for the worst-case scenario.”
In the column, Spacek said that churches are “soft targets” for criminals, because “Much like shopping malls and other retail establishments, churches do not offer the protection afforded by places with rigorous security screening procedures, such as airports or government offices.”
Fire & Brimstone
Violence in the church can happen outside the sanctuary as well.
Today in Whitby, Canada, just outside of Toronto, the All Saints’ Angelican Church was heavily damaged by fire.
According to media reports, the fire destroyed part of the ceiling and caused extensive damage inside the church.
Incidents like the church in Toronto are not uncommon inside the United States. There have been enough church arsons to warrents a law making it a crime to target a religious institution with violence or destruction.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice:
The law has already been used. In February, 2008, two men plead guilty to burning an Islamic Center in Tennessee. The Department of Justice said that the attack was an attack on the freedom of assembly and the ability to have people of various religions congregate in America.
Thou shalt not kill
A chief reason for churches to be concerned for the safety in their meeting place is the threat of homicide.
On Sept. 15, 1999, a gunman walked into the Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. The gunman walked into a youth activity, fired over 100 rounds from two different handguns, and exploded a homemade pipe bomb, according to the church’s web site.
Eight people were killed in the attack, including the gunman, seven others were wounded.
According to the Christian Security Network’s 2009 report, more than 75 percent of congregations in the United States are “still unprepared for a security emergency.”
The organization said historically, the churches were a safe haven and church leaders treated the building as such. However, now a church or a place of worship is as same to a criminal as an office park. Yet church leadership has been slower to come around to implement similar security measures for their congregation.
“Offices, government buildings, malls, and so on have all stepped up security because of the increased risk, but churches have not. Thus they remain a vulnerable, predictable, unsecured target,” Hawkins said.
For West Michigan-based churches interested in local security solutions, they have two main options to choose between.
The House of Worship Security Network helps churches identify threats to the church, both from outside and identifying threats within the church itself.
According to the organization, threats to the church from within can stem from failing to properly screen volunteers or employees, and failing to have plans to deal with significant security events in the church.
Holland, Mich.-based Church Land Security offers similar services, including conferences on how to train your church staff to organize a security team, as well as CPR and First Aid training and certification.
Both organizations offer assessments, which will help determine the areas the church is most in need of when it comes to security and training.
For cash-strapped congregations, security comes as a price.
The House of Worship offers solutions starting at $100 for the first year of service, with a $75 yearly renewal fee. Church Land Security’s conference training seminars start at a minimum of $60, going upwards to $100 per person.
“Most houses of worship do NOT need people armed in their house of worship,” said Tom Conrad, Executive Director of the House of Worship, the company’s blog. He said that his organization has helped people who have had armed and unarmed personnel in the church.
An important part of planning church security, according to Conrad, is to also plan the congregation for the aftermath of a major security event.
“It is critical for us to be prepared for the aftermath of emotion that will occur,” Conrad said in a separate blog post. “Those that survive need our love and support.”
The House of Worship has partnered up with Crisis Care Network to help churches deal with the aftermath occurring after a major incident.
Other aspects of church security still remain a planning issue for most churches, including internet and data security, what to do in case of a tornado or major storm event, or a outbreak of an infectious disease.
However, using both national and local security options, churches do have options for how to deal and prepare for the events.
For Hawkins, he hopes that more churches understand the need and role of security for their congregations.
“Security is extremely misunderstood in the Christian community,” Hawkins said. “Christian leaders really need to understand that incidents like this could happen in any congregation, but also, how easily—with the right information and planning—security can be integrated into their world.”
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Spacek column: http://churchexecutive.com/article.asp?IndexID=975
Church Arson Prevention Act: http://www.firstfreedom.gov/ff_biascrimes.html
PUBLIC DOCUMENT: Department of Justice: Two Plead Guilty…Islamic Center: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2008/November/08-crt-977.html
Numbers from beginning of story: http://www.christiansecuritynetwork.org/Exec-Dir-Weekly/blog-27
Christian Security Network advisory: http://www.christiansecuritynetwork.org/Press-Room/media-advisory-decade-after-wedgwood
Wedgewood Baptist Church: http://www.wedgwoodbc.org/content.cfm?id=2010
Second Conrad blog post: http://www.howsn.net/blog/blogs/blog2.php/2009/03/11/tom-s-thoughts-samson-alabama-care-and-s