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  • Writer's pictureThe Beacon Today

Crimes against churches require a show of force

"Our custodian comes at about 2 a.m., and she was the one who discovered that somebody had been trying to break in. And that people were actually on the campus,” said Fran Thew, the clerk of session at Lakeside Presbyterian Church.

She suggested that the reason people believe they can steal from churches is because churches are generally trusting, and that they “often expect the best of people.”

Because of the nature of a church’s open-door policy, churches risk inviting in unwelcome guests who might possibly commit crimes. Churches of all different religious denominations in the U.S. can easily be victims of crimes such as robbery, burglary and theft.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report of 2020, 3.4% of 8,263 location-based hate crimes committed in the U.S. were at churches, synagogues, temples or mosques. Although this number is significantly lower than the number of crimes committed in residential areas or on the street, it is still larger than the number of crimes committed at other suspect areas such as convenience stores or gas stations.

In another 2020 Hate Crime Report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, religion accounted for 20.5% of all reported hate crimes in Florida. Statistics from this report showed that most religious hate crimes occurred at a church, temple or synagogue.

Thew recounted how Lakeside Presbyterian recently saw a few burglary attempts at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. When Palm Beach Harvest, a nonprofit organization, was operating through Lakeside Presbyterian’s kitchen to provide food for families in need during this time, their trucks were broken into and property was subsequently stolen. The COVID-19 situation also prompted the church to increase their technological equipment.

“We’ve got a lot more equipment now than we would’ve had two years ago,” Thew said.

Additionally, Lakeside Presbyterian is located across from former President Donald Trump’s place of residence, Mar-a-Lago, which is a place that could attract unwanted attention. Thew said Palm Beach County’s Sheriff’s Office advised the church on different security measures it could initiate to be prepared in case of trouble. As a precaution, there was an increased amount of police patrols and activity on the church’s property.

On a practical level, a Palm Beach County sheriff helped educate the church through a seminar on how to be better prepared for adverse situations. The church was advised to install cameras around their property. The church also set up safety measures such as adding more light fixtures and better locks on doors.

“It’s our goal that everyone can come and worship and feel secure,” Thew said.

Thew isn’t the only one with this sentiment. Other churches also understand the importance of maintaining a security system. Alec Bell, the students and young adults pastor at Christ Fellowship Church, emphasized the measures Christ Fellowship takes to ensure the church is safe.

Since Christ Fellowship is located in the middle of the Square, a popular tourist site in downtown West Palm Beach, the church often has people who are not church members come inside. Despite this, the church is prepared to always have someone greet guests. Bell said that because the church is an open space that pays attention to maintaining accountability, there is not an easy opportunity for crime.

Bell also said that in addition to keeping a security team at Christ Fellowship, they also commission a sheriff to stay on site for every location on Sunday mornings. They added the sheriff’s presence as a precaution to help reassure families of the church’s safety.

“We want to make sure everyone knows that it’s the safest place they can be – that it’s the safest place they can bring their families,” Bell said, “It will always be a No. 1 priority for us.”

By Jasmine Lien

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