In Edson, Alberta, a mosque is set ablaze a day after Eid al-Fitr, a celebration marking the end of the holy fasting month, Ramadan. Security cameras captured the suspect leaving the property in a dark hoodie.
In Edmonton, Alberta, a suspicious fire broke out at a United Church just before preschoolers were to arrive. Employees saw someone unfamiliar leaving the church but did not pursue them for safety reasons.
In Calmar, Alberta, a fire is set in the bell tower of a historic Ukrainian Church followed by an attempted theft at another Ukrainian church in the same county resulting in extensive damage.
These are just some of the numerous crimes committed in western Canadian places of worship in 2018. Police requested information to help capture the culprits in all instances.
A place of worship is meant to be a sanctuary and place of peace for those who use it but they continue to be the target of crimes each year - one of the most destructive being arson.
In fact, arson alone accounts for up to 50 incidents of church-based crimes a year in Canada and can be costly to suffer through, both emotionally and financially.
Places of worship are often vulnerable to arson for a number of reasons:
- They are left unoccupied for long periods of time.
- They can contain valuable antiques and works of art that are in demand on the black market.
- They are the unfortunate target of hate crimes.
- They are open to all without judgement, making them easy targets in the eyes of criminals.
- Their security and safety measures are often less sophisticated.
While many of these cannot be avoided without radical changes, improving security and safety measures can be an easy and effective solution that will deter all types of criminals, while also increasing the likelihood of the culprit being caught - saving police time and resources.
In Canada, many places of worship have no formal safety and security measures in place. No security system, no safety committee, no partnership with first responders, no training, and no emergency plans.
If you are one of the many faith-based organizations without a security plan, a good place to start is to bring together a committee of community volunteers who can oversee security and emergency management, and build a relationship with first responders.
As a group, come up with a plan that will help protect your place of worship. This plan can include steps such as:
- Creating a community watch program for hours when the property is left unoccupied.
- Ask neighbours to contact the authorities if there is any suspicious or unusual activity.
- Ask authorities if they can do regular drive/walk by’s to patrol the property and show an obvious police presence.
- Teach your community about first response actions that can be taken to reduce damage and danger.
- Restrict entry at night and when there are no activities scheduled.
- Ensure windows, doors and other potential entry points, such as vents, are secure.
- Keep track of keys and have a log book.
- Define property boundaries with fencing and landscaping.
- Trim bushes and shrubs to minimize hiding spaces.
- Ensure telephones are accessible in case of an emergency.
- Lock up valuable items when not in use.
- Lock outbuildings at all times.
- Limit the amount of chemicals and solvents on site.
- Keep garbage and recycling bins away from buildings.
- Keep ignition sources out of plain view.
- Dispose of unused paper products that can be used to start a fire.
- Post signage that indicates the property is private and under surveillance.
- Keep the property well lit.
Once this plan has been established, you can ask the local law enforcement, fire department and paramedics to do a walk-through of all your buildings and facilities – they will help ensure you have taken all necessary steps to prevent danger.
Once you have uncovered areas of risk, it is time to consider a comprehensive security system.
At Sonitrol Western Canada, we provide integrated verified security solutions specifically tailored to the needs of faith-based and other non-profit organizations.
Using our proprietary security technology - verified audio and video detection - our trained professionals can actually hear an intrusion attempt as it occurs. This unique technology actually reduces false alarms and increases the apprehension of criminals, including arsonists, thieves and vandals.
Also, because we know that you do not want a security system to interfere with your congregation, we offer discreet security technology that offers maximum protection with a minimal visible footprint.
Today, the reality is that places of worship face the same security challenges as any other business, school, government, not-for-profit or commercial facility - and the liabilities that go along with it.
To help keep your place of worship safe while maintaining your sense of openness, consider installing a comprehensive security solution.