Report says crime up at U.S. churches

February 9, 2011

(RNS) Each week brings an average of two arsons, seven thefts, and 19
burglaries at U.S. churches, according to Christian Security Network's
second annual year-end report of church crimes.


The report, which uses news articles, police blogs, and verified
personal reports to compile its data, showed a slight increase in most
church crimes in 2010 from 2009, for a total of 1,783 incidents.


That figure was up 546 from the year before and included 970
burglaries, 397 thefts, 102 arsons, and 89 counts of vandalism, the
report stated. The report only covered churches and not other houses of
worship, such as mosques or synagogues.


"Two years is not long enough to prove any trend," said Jeffrey
Hawkins, the founder and executive director of the Cincinnati-based
group. "We will know better after another year or two if this keeps
trending up. Maybe this year was just a bad year. Maybe we got better at
finding out what had happened."


Hawkins hopes the upswing in crimes committed against churches will
encourage churches to take security more seriously and will help those
who have been victimized to realize they are not alone.


"Every church that gets burned down thinks they are the only church.
But we see an arson twice a week. That's the awareness part," Hawkins
said.


Hawkins also stressed the value of the report's numbers when
compared against more recognized reports like the annual Department of
Justice's Hate Crime Statistics and Uniform Crime Report.


The 2009 Hate Crime Statistics recognized only 89 hate crimes
against Christians; the Uniform Crime Report reports all incidents that
occur on church property even if they are not against the church,
Hawkins said.


The 2010 report put an emphasis on verifying crimes: Hawkins said
there would be many more incidents in the report if the organization
reported every crime they knew had occurred but could not verify.


What's more, not all crimes are reported to police or the media.


"Security is never 100 percent, but (having) no security is 100
percent vulnerability," Hawkins said. "It's all about awareness. Our
mission is to bring awareness to the community. No church is immune from
this kind of thing and they have to start now. There is no tomorrow."