By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
COLUMBIA, Md.—Jesus is the Prince of Peace and the body of Christ is truly a sanctuary; but our buildings aren’t always safe havens. According to the Christian Security Network, there were 24 crimes against U.S. churches within a ten-day period from Dec. 23 to Jan 1. Most were burglary, one was aggravated robbery and several were arsons. In 2009, there were 1,237 crimes against U.S. churches including 12 homicides and 38 other violent incidents including three sexual assaults, three kidnappings, 98 arsons, and over 700 burglaries resulting in more than $24 million in property loss.
“The church is an extension of the community, therefore the crime in the community may spill into the church,” Jim Rice said. Rice is a member of Cresthill Church, a federal law enforcement officer, and former state trooper.
“People bring their baggage and that includes messy divorces, mental problems and drug problems and each of those leads to the possibility of crime. We want to keep our doors open and welcome everyone and obey The Great Commission, but sometimes we leave ourselves open to danger,” he said.
The biggest deterrent to dangerous situations is awareness. Pay attention to instincts.
“Use your God-given ability to look at something that doesn’t look right. Don’t let layers of training ourselves to be polite overcome a need to be safe,” Rice emphasized. “We have robbed ourselves of the ability to pay attention when our hair stands up on the back of our necks. We don’t want to insult anyone by saying, ‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’” Rice said at Cresthill, if there’s an unknown person who may look suspicious, it’s perfectly natural to walk up and say, “Hi! How can I help you?” “That’s not threatening. The person may be new and looking for a Sunday school class. You know from the reaction. If they’re looking for an easy target they say ‘no thanks’ and leave.”
Here are a few other tips from Rice and other security professionals:
• Don’t keep money around. Provide vouchers for food, or a night’s lodging. That way funds can’t be used to purchase drugs or alcohol. Word gets around. If someone says they’ve lost their house or apartment, take their information and tell them your emergency committee will investigate and see if they can help. Sometimes people make a living of going from church to church.
• Use ushers and greeters as your security staff and provide training. They’re already in place and can play a key role in observation, getting help quickly and providing leadership in emergency situations.
• Have fire drills and have a rally point. Fire drills teach evacuation in all situations. Rice said we only retain part of what we hear so going through the motions helps us to remember. People don’t behave logically in a crisis. If someone has a gun holding it to someone’s head, or there is a parental kidnapping in process, it is an emotionally charged event and people need to know how to react.
• Gather intelligence. What are the threats to your neighborhood? Are there convicted felons or child molesters in your community? Are their mental illnesses or nasty divorce situations in the church that could pose potential threats?
• Have a plan of action that may or may not include a team. Exercise that plan, even if it’s getting together 30 minutes before church on a Sunday to discuss, “Okay, if this happens what will we do? If someone tries to drag a child out, how will we react?”
• Contact local police to do a crime analysis. They can point out potential risks areas.
• Take intelligence from all sources including children. Rice said kids are great observers. Consider bringing in a special speaker like McGruff the Crime Dog to help kids recognize signs of danger.
• Always be observant and trust your instincts and err on the side of caution and safety.
The National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management refers to 1 Chron. 9:22-24 as their founding scripture: “Altogether, those chosen to be gatekeepers at the thresholds numbered 212. They were registered by genealogy in their villages. The gatekeepers had been assigned to their positions of trust by David and Samuel the seer. They and their descendants were in charge of guarding the gates of the house of the LORD—the house called the tent of meeting. The gatekeepers were on the four sides: east, west, north and south.”