Using the Eyes and Ears of Your Congregation to Improve Church Safety/Security

  • Thefts and burglaries cost churches about $22 million a year.
  • Arsonists damaged at least $3 million in church property last year.
  • In 1999 there were 10 reported deadly force incidents at faith-based organizations; statistics reveal over 100 incidents in each of the years 2009 and 2010.
  • Lawsuits against churches are reaching all time highs as more and more litigating attorneys see them as easy targets.

Because churches are open and welcoming to all, church environments can be exposed and vulnerable.  Most church leaders do not expect security and safety incidents to affect them or their members, but not being prepared to prevent the preventable can lead to unwanted incidents, liabilities and losses.

Church crimes can happen anywhere…since 1999, there have been 460 deadly force incidents within faith-based organizations, resulting in 196 deaths.  Were these tragedies preventable? In most situations, YES!

Painful lessons learned continue to reveal that communities must find better ways to monitor at-risk individuals and prevent aggression, bullying, mental health disconnects, violence, suicides and assaults because most tragedies are indeed PREVENTABLE.

Most incidents of targeted violence are rarely sudden or impulsive acts.  Prior to an incident, other individuals have some knowledge of the attacker’s plan or idea or the attackers engage in some behavior prior to an incident that causes concern, suspicion or indicates a need for help.

For example, perhaps congregation member John Doe has been voicing his opinion (loudly) about another member, Bob Smith, and a disagreement they had last month.  He has made threatening statements to Bob, but Bob is just ignoring these comments as he is embarrassed about creating a scene.  John has made several comments to others about “making John pay”, but these bystanders are afraid to come forward and report John’s behavior because they don’t want to become his next target.  Yet another member has seen John posting threatening messages on Facebook and his blog and notices that he appears to be tracking Bob’s movements during church.  This member decides to talk to the church security guard at the next service.  John and his wife recently divorced and the wife mentioned to their pastor that he was becoming more and more aggressive during their meetings. Local law enforcement recently arrested John for carrying a concealed weapon at work, but John’s employer did not share this report with anyone else.

As you can see, each individual incident by itself may not be a cause for concern, but if all of these incidents were reported to a centralized location, their totality would raise a major red flag.  Connecting the dots could lead to an investigation and intervention, and potentially the prevention of a tragic incident.

So, how can church leaders identify early warning signs and behaviors?  Rather than installing expensive security cameras or hiring additional security staff that are mostly reactive in nature, why not allow all church community members to go online and easily and anonymously report suspicious incidents and red flags and protect their fellow members?

It is also critical for organizations to develop comprehensive plans and processes to ensure all individuals (greeters, ushers, parking lot attendees, pastors, Sunday school teachers, etc.) understand how and where to report incidents, observations, problems, concerns, etc.  Imagine if your faith-based organization had comprehensive, secure and anonymous reporting procedures to eliminate psychological barriers and empower individuals to report warning signs from home, work or from church?  With increased situational awareness and security awareness among all individuals, church leaders can connect the dots, improve prevention, protect communities and save lives.

Submitted by:

Katie Johnson, Marketing and Client Services for Awareity.   Awareity is an innovative web-based services firm helping organizations and communities connect the dots more effectively and replace expensive and ineffective status quo methodologies.   Awareity is passionate about helping organizational leaders improve prevention and intervention efforts and implement comprehensive and ongoing security programs.  You can learn more by visiting www.awareity.com or review recent lessons learned at http://blog.awareity.com.

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