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Church Security

The following articles originally appeared in The Baptist Record during 2011 and 2012.

October 20, 2011

Church security: As crime increases, churches must plan

Chester Quarles photo

Quarles

By Chester L. Quarles

Correspondent

First in a seven-part, aperiodical series

Church crimes are increasing exponentially. While attacks are geographically isolated, they are occurring in almost every state on a regular basis. Sanctuary size or membership levels don’t correlate when churches are selected as attack zones. Some churches are targeted because they are located in more vulnerable, inner-city locations. Other churches are targeted because they are “soft” and “easy” targets.

Churches are not safe havens! Criminals hold almost nothing sacred! Murder, robbery, burglary, rape, child abduction, pedophilia, and crimes at off-facility, church sponsored activities are becoming more frequent. Car theft and automobile break-ins are perpetrated during services, while burglary and arson are after-hours problems. Some targeting occurs during services.

In developing comprehensive security plans, we should always remember the words of our Lord in Matthew 10:16, when he challenged his disciples, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” We need wisdom beyond ourselves and a recognition of the evil in our society. James 1:5 recorded, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach.”

Jeffrey Hawkins, in writing Security and Emergency Planning for Faith-Based Organizations, quoted an online July 2008 poll taken by the Christian News Web site, OneNewsNow.com. This survey indicated that “over 75% of all responding Christian churches indicated that they had no security or emergency plans in place.” Your church should be an exception to this statistic.

The first step in church security is to read the Word and pray for guidance in finding solutions to the complex issues of crime. The second step is to recognize and accept the fact that churches are frequently targeted. The third step is to form a security committee that is representative of all ministries, ages, and genders.

The committee should then complete a comprehensive risk assessment. How dangerous is your neighborhood? Have any churches been targeted in your area? Your local police or sheriff’s department can help you focus your priorities and give you specifics appropriate to your site.

If security cameras, burglar and/or fire alarms, or contract security officers are needed, you will also be dealing with for-profit security companies. Oftentimes your security committee will be inundated with crime data, some of which may be contradictory. Always remember that private companies offer a service or a product, so sometimes their assessments are biased in favor of a profit.

Remember that the word “security” is a positive term. Security doesn’t have to cost a lot. In fact, some of the best security programs are free! Even if security requires a financial investment, it is a wise expenditure when considering the vulnerability of not addressing your risks. Substantial liability results from a secular Pollyanna approach. Ultimately, lawsuits may be your highest risk!

Most churches already have a security program in place. A welcoming committee, sometimes called greeters, are components of an effective guardian program. A church member stands at each entrance and welcomes both members and visitors as they enter. Criminals don’t want a welcoming. They don’t want your greeter to look them in the eye or to shake their hand. They want to reconnoiter the premises to see if they can target your facility successfully.

A cold-hearted church that does not recognize nor greet visitors (indeed, the members don’t even speak to their visitors) is like a magnet to a church criminal. Warm-hearted, caring churches are crime resistant by their very nature, but even a warm-hearted church needs a viable security and safety plan.


Quarles is professor emeritus of criminal justice and homeland security at the University of Mississippi, and co-author of the book, Crime Prevention for Houses of Worship. He may be contacted at cquarles@olemiss.edu. Copyright 2011. Used by permission.

November 3, 2011

Church security: Training, certification help to ensure security

By Chester L. Quarles

Correspondent

Second in a seven-part, aperiodical series

Ron Aguiar, security director for the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., directs one of the largest church security units in the United States. He designed a comprehensive security ministry for the mega-church, which includes a multi-acre campus and 14 buildings.

With the approval of his pastor, he gives security training to all ushers, deacons, and greeters. These men carry communication devices to alert others of any security or safety risk. He also established a “Nehemiah’s Team” of certified police officers, based on Old Testament scriptural tenets.

The Jubilee Fellowship Church in Lone Tree, Co., calls their security ministry, “Shepherd’s Watch,” also basing their ministry on Nehemiah, Chapter 4. Pastor John Leach asked Raleigh Rhodes, a Certified Protection Professional and security director for a regional company, to assist him in this effort.

Many forward-thinking church security and safety ministries have blended first-responding agents including police, sheriff, fire, emergency medical technicians, and medical professionals into their safety teams.

The security ministry is historically validated through Old Testament Scripture. When Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, Sanballat, Tobia, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the men of Ashod decided to “stir up trouble against it.” Later, the threats were so brazen that half of the men worked while the others stayed by their weapons. They carried their arms constantly because Nehemiah turned his workmen into a military force.

One of the benefits of using certified peace officers is that their agencies insure them first and authorize them to carry concealed weapons. This limits the church’s liability — but does not remove it entirely. If a church member carries a concealed firearm to church, it is that individual’s responsibility. However, if the church approves gun-carrying, it assumes general legal accountability with the attendant risk of civil litigation.

Whatever your church decides, your security ministry should plan together, train together, and work together. A serious incident will require extensive coordination so each team member knows what the other members will be doing and where they will be located during an on-going emergency.

At Southeastern Christian Church, each member of Nehemiah’s Team is assigned a strategically selected seat. Some of the team members are also stationed in the choir loft, primarily to protect the pastor, but are available to intervene in any emergency. The team is always ready to respond in case a visitor or a member becomes disruptive.

Some of the security team members volunteer as doorkeepers and greeters. Should they observe a problem in the parking lot or near the church grounds, they immediately initiate radio contact with other team members, lock the doors to the church, call 911, and use other appropriate deterrent procedures.

The keys to any layered security approach are to stop trouble before it intensifies, or to prevent trouble completely. By being vigilant the Guardians, the welcoming committee, and Nehemiah’s Team can often spot troublemakers before they enter church buildings.

The Apostle Peter praised vigilance: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

A security ministry is not to be lightly considered. Be sure that your risk assessment is reasonable and plan accordingly. Remember to discuss the church security policies and plans with the police or sheriff’s department, your local prosecutor, and your insurer.

Informing your membership is a must! Some leaders feel that members will be repelled by these procedures, but generally these applications result in a membership that feels safer in the Lord’s House because of your diligence.

Whatever the title of your security and safety team, always remember that the purpose of this group is to enhance the overall ministry of your church and increase the likelihood that those in attendance at your services will come to know the saving grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.


Quarles is professor emeritus of criminal justice and homeland security at the University of Mississippi, and co-author of the book, Crime Prevention for Houses of Worship. He may be contacted at cquarles@olemiss.edu. Copyright 2011. Used by permission.

November 24, 2011

Church security: ‘foreseeable crimes’ must be addressed

By Chester L. Quarles

Correspondent

Third in a seven-part, aperiodical series

Walk around your church. Stand at each entryway and look closely in every direction. Think like a thief or a criminal. Are you surrounded by subdivisions, or is your church located within a business community? No matter your site, you should look for burglar bars, steel doors, burglar alarm signs, and indications of intense police or private security activity. Do the same walk-about at night.

Individual victims may be significantly harmed in any crime. When the crime occurs at church, however, the danger is that the fellowship may be harmed along with attendance. Folks won’t worship at sites they are afraid to visit.

There is also a strong liability issue. When a civil suit results from a harm at your site, the usual claim is that the church “did not exercise ordinary care.” If your church is in an inner-city crime hot zone, or any crime-intensive venue, there is also the issue of “forseeability,” another legal term implying that you did not attempt to prevent criminal activity.

The phrases, due diligence and due care, are also frequently heralded in litigation. Failure to respond to assessed risks appropriately may well be considered negligence. The Scriptures also address this issue: “A prudent man foresees evil and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 22:3 NIV)

Many observers believe that a determined adversary can overcome almost any security effort, but this isn’t true! If a determined adversary could defeat any security system, we would not be able to keep an American president in office, our national treasury would be continually pilfered, and our personal bank accounts wouldn’t be safe.

In the late 80’s, skyjackings occurred at the rate of two or three each month. Today these attacks are rarely heard of. Effective security was emplaced! The security practices used to protect airlines, our financial institutions, and our governing bodies can be used to protect houses of worship.

A purse left in an unoccupied Bible-study class is a soft target. That same purse sitting on the pew between a wife and her husband is much more secure and is a hardened target. Target hardening also involves locks, lights, security doors, fences, alarms, and closed circuit television units.

For a church, the primary form of target hardening is called access control. If guardians, whether they be church members, greeters, or private security officers, can limit access to your parking lots and then to your sanctuary, you will have established the first and second tier or layer of security protocols.

While you can depend on the police to assist you with risk assessment and crime prevention advice, you should understand that the police will investigate your crime after it has occurred and rarely are they able to prevent church crimes. At a spree-shooting in Illinois, police responded in 90 seconds, but there were already seven dead worshipers and 11 more injured.

Philip Purpura wrote, “The police response is primarily reactive and departments are under great pressure to solve crimes. As a result, the proactive efforts that would reduce risks at houses of worship are rarely in place (Purpura, Securing Houses of Worship: A Community Service Manual, 1999, 10).

The belief is naïve that the local police department’s responsibility is to protect the individual, the home, or the community institution. One church security specialist called this belief “toxic” faith-based secular security. Most Americans take crime avoidance precautions. We lock our homes and cars. We try not to leave valuables within easy reach of criminals, and we are vigilant.

The church, as an institution, must also be vigilant!


Quarles is professor emeritus of criminal justice and homeland security at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, and co-author of the book, Crime Prevention for Houses of Worship. He may be contacted at cquarles@olemiss.edu. Copyright 2011. Used by permission.

December 22, 2011

Church security: Plans must assess risk

By Chester L. Quarles

Correspondent

Fourth in a seven-part, aperiodical series

Before you can develop a strong church security plan, you must complete a risk assessment. Your local police department’s crime prevention unit can be of service here. They can tell you of crimes in your neighborhood and crimes against other churches in their jurisdiction. Knowledge is your first line of defense!

The word, “risk,” implies any possibility of loss or attack. To a novice, it seems a vague and elusive term. Risk assessment is usually historical. We need to know what has gone before. We need to know if an incident at another church could happen at our church, then we can make a list of the threats and weaknesses which most concern our membership.

We can look at crime trends and then rate our information by assigning a reliability factor to it. The police crime prevention unit can help prioritize your risks.

Risk avoidance attempts to remove or decrease exposure. Occurrence reduction attempts to reduce the activities through which a threat might be accomplished. Risk acceptance is what most churches do now — nothing! It basically relies on the myth that there is very little that you can do to prevent or deter crime.

Risk spreading involves assigning functions to multiple individuals so that the loss impact is reduced. An example of this would be using the “2+ Rule” (two or more people together reduce the threat of street crime by 67%). For example, if two or more people take the offering to the bank, the risk is spread.

Risk transfer usually involves the insurance industry or sharing the loss with another party, such as an armored car service, thus minimizing loss.

The risk assessment is an absolutely necessary component of any viable security plan. Risk management is a moral and a legal responsibility. It should be noted, however, that security analyses, policies, plans and procedures may be subpoenaed in the event of a premises liability lawsuit.

While the total lack of security planning is a strong negative issue, the problem of failing to live up to your own policies, procedures, and plans will certainly be exploited by opposing legal counsel in a lawsuit.

Vulnerability indices involve identifying specific threats. What are the primary threats? Vandalism, burglary, arson, robbery, internal fraud, and kidnapping are people-caused threats. Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and fires should also be considered in your risk factors.

Probability factors are significant. Are you situated in a high-crime or a low-crime area? Are members of your congregation reasonably concerned about threat, loss, or risk? Have there been any specific threats against your facility, your congregation, or your church leaders?

Criticality refers to the consequence of a particular risk. If your church treasurer steals the building fund, then you aren’t going to build that addition. If a non-custodial parent takes a child out of your nursery, then many worshipers won’t leave their children in your nurseries.

Risk assessments can help you manage your risks realistically.


Quarles is professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and co-author of the book, Crime Prevention for Houses of Worship. He may be contacted at cquarles@olemiss.edu. Copyright 2011. Used by permission.

January 5, 2012

Church security: Firearms in church bring comfort, alarm

By Chester L. Quarles

Correspondent

Fifth in a seven-part, aperiodical series

Church “spree” shooting events have caused a lot of concern. Unfortunately, acts of violence within church structures and on church properties occur on a regular basis. Many churches have responded in unique ways.

The Louisiana House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 68 which allows, but does not mandate, churches to establish a security plan for their membership, permitting members of the congregation who possess concealed weapon carry permits to take their guns to church.

The bill also requires an eight-hour firearms course at local law enforcement agencies.

House Bill 68 has been quite controversial and divisive across denominational lines. The Catholic Church in Louisiana universally opposed it. Other denominations have embraced it.

Whatever your church does should be accomplished with the full approval of your membership. Since no institution operates in a vacuum, you should obtain police or Sheriff Department advice for all of your security plans as well as that of your insurer. It is also recommended that you discuss the gun issue with your local district attorney.

Failing in any one of these steps can prove problematic.

Generally it is recognized that firearms should be used only in cases where human life is in danger, that it would be better to allow thieves to steal rather than exchange bullets in a sanctuary where innocent worshipers might be injured or killed.

All of the rules change when a spree killer starts shooting at random, however.

The generally recommended rule by major house of worship insurers is that serving police officers should be the only personnel authorized by the church to bring concealed weapons on premises. Retired police officers and detectives who stay current in terms of marksmanship requirements could also be allowed to participate in viable security programs.

The idea of well-intentioned worshipers carrying firearms to church causes a great deal of concern, especially if they are casual shooters and rarely practice.

Gunplay response in a crowded environment requires exceptional skill, along with nerves of steel. Holiday shooters are often great marksmen, blowing tin cans up in the air and then shooting them again — but the cans can’t shoot back. Police officers and former police officers have been trained in stress shooting and are better prepared for crowd shootings, but even then there are problems! Using a firearm in a crowded environment requires extraordinary proficiency.

I don’t want to sound hypercritical. I have carried a concealed weapon for over forty years. When I was a state police investigator and later a narcotics agent, I was required to be armed at all times. The weapons were concealed, but every now and then someone would jostle my pistol at church and then question my mental and/or spiritual well-being.

One lady actually screamed when she realized I was armed and wasn’t comforted by the fact that I had carried a weapon to that church for 22 years without using it. On the other hand, one pastor’s wife usually sat on the pew with my family. When I asked her why, she stated that she knew I would protect her.

My own value system is unique. I had rather replace the Lord’s offering out of my own pocket than shoot a fellow human being. Since a defensive shot is usually aimed at the mid-chest, it would normally be fatal. I would prefer not to protect the offering plate or individuals being robbed within the church. The thief can face God’s Judgment Seat later.

I will always attempt to protect the worshiper, however, and predators shooting at worshipers must be stopped. A robber who also wants to take a teenager with him as he leaves must also be restrained.

Only the worshipers can do this, since the crime is over before most police officers can respond. The shooter must be stopped within the church if he is to be stopped at all.


Quarles is professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and co-author of the book, Crime Prevention for Houses of Worship. He may be contacted at cquarles@olemiss.edu. Copyright 2011. Used by permission.

January 19, 2012

Church security: Lack of plan can lead to tragedy

By Chester L. Quarles

Correspondent

Sixth in a seven-part, aperiodical series

You’ve just encountered an armed intruder in your church. What do you do? How do you respond to a nightmare?

You need a well thought-out plan, because most people lose their ability to think logically during an ongoing crisis. They lose their cognitive processing and make bad decisions. Being prepared can save your life and the lives of those in your congregation. Having a plan gives you an edge!

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all plan for an armed predator in any church. The mega-church has many more options than does a small congregation. A single shooter can’t control a crowd of 3,000-10,000 worshipers. Worshipers some distance from the spree shooter can evacuate through alternative exits. However, in a small church congregational setting the spree shooter can control all of the exits.

Most shooting trajectories (the path of the bullet) are higher than 18 inches. Positioning yourself lower than this significantly decreases your chances of being shot. If everyone hits the floor, it will also provide a clear shot for any gun-carrying guardian or police officer worshiping with you.

The officer or guardian can’t fire if innocent people are in the way. He or she is totally helpless, even with a firearm, the skill to use it well, and the will to use it to save lives in a chaotic situation, where innocents impede a clear shot.

The time to stop the spree shooter is before he enters the sanctuary. This is accomplished by a layered security program which should begin at your parking area. This is where your guardians can intervene. The best weapon available in a church shooting event is not a firearm — it’s a cell phone and the requirement to dial it immediately upon perceiving a threat.

If a gun call is answered by law enforcement authorities, whether it be a robbery, shooting event, or a group hostage taking, you should be prepared to respond appropriately. Should the police enter your church during an on-going gun emergency, you should duck and take cover. If it is possible, get on the floor and avoid the bullets that may start flying.

For elderly people, the best idea is to lean forward in the pew and place your hands behind your head. This shows your adversaries and the police as well that you are not a threat.

In a group hostage taking, all precipitous behavior should be avoided. If there is only one adversary, you may be able to stop him. If there are several, the situation is even more tenuous. Starting a firefight, even with a clear shot at one or more assailants, is fraught with danger for all in attendance.

Psychologists call active resistance in such a situation “counterphobic behavior,” and it should be avoided at all costs.

Do what the hostage takers tell you to do. Never say “no” and never say “never” to armed men in a public setting. These words can get you killed. Robbers and hostage takers want control and they want it now! By acquiescing, you can become a “successful victim.” Successful victims survive and usually don’t require hospitalization.

If anyone loses control, some of your people will likely be killed. With this in mind, church leaders should plan for the possibility of an active shooter or a group hostage taking event, and insure that all ushers, deacons, and members of your “Nehemiah’s Team/Shepherd’s Watch” are all operating from the same plan.

If shooting assaults are already taking place, men need to stop the shooter. Unfortunately, the best time to stop him is when he reloads.


Quarles is professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and co-author of the book, Crime Prevention for Houses of Worship. He may be contacted at cquarles@olemiss.edu. Copyright 2011. Used by permission.

February 16, 2012

Church security: Houses of worship are easy burglary targets

By Chester L. Quarles

Correspondent

Final in a seven-part, aperiodical series

The burglary of worship centers has increased exponentially over the last decade. In 1953, there were only three church burglaries in my capital city. In 1983, there were 47 burglaries during one three-month summer period.

Churches are soft targets, and easy marks because they are vacant a high percentage of time. The old approach of building a pastorium on-site and adjacent to the church was a strong crime deterrent, but is rarely used as often in contemporary times except in rural settings.

Few churches have alarm systems for fire and criminal activity, closed circuit television cameras, motion detector lights, or other crime deterring electronic aids. With a minimum investment of time and effort, a thief can be home free with a valuable haul.

Many churches don’t even lock their doors, leaving them open for all to worship and pray whenever convenient. Worship and the business activities of most churches are highly predictable — just pick up this week’s bulletin, where announcements can assist the professional thief in avoiding anyone while committing his or her crime.

While many transient or homeless offenders simply steal food products from the kitchen areas, the most likely value-targets are computers, sophisticated office equipment, musical instruments, sound, and broadcast equipment, and even copper taken from central air conditioning units.

Since older central air conditioning units have a better grade of copper, they are more likely to be targeted than a newer unit. Some churches have been targeted repeatedly within weeks of replacing their units.

There are many approaches which can increase your security. Raise your blinds after hours. Some low-level lights may be left on after-hours. This provides law enforcement a visual access to locked properties and creates an atmosphere that is less conducive to crime.

Many churches that use a safe, place it so that the patrol officer can see it when they make their rounds. Some churches put up signs on their exterior office doors. A statement like “Records only – no cash,” or “Deposits are made immediately after the service and are not on site,” may deter some criminals. Likewise, a sign may actually be posted on the safe itself, claiming “We do not keep money in this safe.”

Checkbooks and church credit cards should be kept in the safe, or at least under lock and key. Checks should be inventoried frequently. Burglars often steal the last check or two, hoping that the missing checks will go undetected for a good period. Never keep pre-signed checks. This is a really bad idea insofar as crime prevention efforts are concerned.

Some Neighborhood Watches include worship centers. Join them if you can. In some cities, police have implemented Church Watch programs. It is a good idea and if your community has one, you should actively participate. Otherwise, use the same precautions that you take at your own home or business.

Crime prevention rules are fairly universal. If it is a good idea for your home or business, it is a good idea for your church.

There are many ways to protect central air and heating units. Lights, alarms, and cages seem to be standard fare. Many units are now placed on roofs, but this ordinarily gives the burglar more privacy so this application may well be disadvantageous in terms of crime prevention.

Many multi-story apartment communities now mount their AC units on towers, making it inconvenient and time consuming to steal the copper. Substantial steel cages can lower your theft likelihood remarkably.

If worship centers are being burglarized locally, be sure to request an interview and a security assessment from your local law enforcement agency. Ideally, you should also talk directly to the police officers or deputies who patrol your site. Listen to their observations carefully and consider their advice.

Additionally, you should encourage church members to observe the parking areas whenever they are driving by. If they see anything suspicious, encourage them to call 911 in order that authorities may investigate.


Quarles is professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and co-author of the book, Crime Prevention for Houses of Worship. He may be contacted at cquarles@olemiss.edu. Copyright 2011. Used by permission.