Safer Places of Worship

Deterring Intruders

There are a number of deterrents that your place of worship can put in place:

As many church buildings are often open only on selected days throughout the week, it is important to engage with the local community. Neighbouring houses and businesses are in the best position to keep a friendly eye on church premises and report any suspicious behaviour.

To do this places of worship can create an official Churchwatch scheme whilst others have included the place of worship within a "Neighbourhood Watch" Area.

If you set up a scheme, make sure your local community prevention officer is aware and knows who is co-ordinating this effort.  Also, ensure a notice is displayed to show any would-be villain that the building is looked after and under the watchful eye of those who care.

Click here to download a flyer that you can fill in and distribute to your neighbours which provides them with contact details to report suspicious activity.

CCTV can be a valuable and useful tool for reducing criminal activity and anti-social behaviour. Whilst a basic CCTV system may act as a deterrent, unless it is being watched continuously it is only able to provide recorded evidence of events discovered or suspected after they have occurred.

If you are looking to install a CCTV system it is recommended that you fully assess the type of problem faced for example safety, theft or malicious damage and consider to what extent CCTV will address these problems and whether other measures will compliment it for example intruder alarms or better lighting.

Installing CCTV

When installing CCTV you should use reputable installers, preferably ones approved by the National Security inspectorate (NSI) or Security Systems & Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB)

Most CCTV systems must be registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). This is because nearly all CCTV systems capture data relating to the members of the public and this data can be electronically ‘processed’. For more information please visit the ICO’s CCTV information

Your system must be proportionate to your needs and must not interfere with the rights of other individuals.

It must be clear to those entering your premises that CCTV is in use and that images are being recorded using notices in prominent positions, especially at the points of entry and where the system is in use.

It is important to ensure that any evidence captured on a CCTV system can be used by the police or as evidence in an investigation. It is important that any recordings are clear enough and easily accessible by police investigators. For more information on the ‘UK police requirements for digital CCTV systems’

Ensure that any staff member using the system is fully trained on how to use the system.

If you are thinking of installing a CCTV system, you should inform your insurance providers. This is particularly important if you want the CCTV to replace any existing security measures.

Intruder alarms are often not installed as they are considered to be too expensive, too much trouble and inappropriate for use within a place of worship. It is strongly suggested that the installation of a suitable alarm, in conjunction with other security measures may discourage criminals for the following reasons:

  • the presence of an alarm system can deter the would-be criminals;
  • an alarm substantially reduces the time available to the criminal to commit the crime;
  • a good quality alarm system can be cost-effective, often costing far less than that of other security devices. The value of good quality physical security (such as door and window locks, bars and other protection to windows) cannot be underestimated. However, in some instances additional alarm security may be advisable. You may want to especially consider this if you have high value items, if you are situated in a high crime area or if you have suffered problems in the past;
  • systems can be designed to meet the requirements of individual buildings or specific areas within the building. Contact an alarm specialist for appropriate alarms for your particular needs.

When you are ready to purchase an intruder alarm, we recommend quotations being obtained from at least three UKAS accredited alarm companies, approved by the local constabulary under their ACPO Policy, (Association of Chief Police Officers) and proposals submitted to your insurer.

External lighting to the building not only improves the appearance of your property but also acts as an excellent deterrent to criminals, as they do not like being bathed in light. The longer the light is switched on the greater the deterrent value.

An inexpensive form of lighting for these purposes is a high-pressure sodium unit, which takes a little time to “warm up” when first switched on.  It is possible to fit electronic timers but these require adjustment throughout the year according to daylight changes and in the event of power failures.

An alternative is the installation of photoelectric switches, which operate automatically at low light levels and ensure operation regardless of “lighting-up times”.

Auto Detectors

Passive infra-red controlled lighting will detect body heat and automatically illuminate in the presence of an intruder. Passive Infra-Red (PIR) activated halogen lamps are extremely effective in lighting up ‘dark corners’. Consideration should be given to using these, which are available from most DIY stores and are now relatively inexpensive.

The great advantage is that they only operate when approached suddenly, bathing the area in light, illuminating people in the area and highlighting the presence of a possible intruder.

These types of lighting can be fitted independently, or, if required, can be set up so that a number can be activated on a single detection.

Dusk till Dawn Lighting

Dusk till Dawn Lighting is lighting that remains switched on during the hours of darkness. This type of lighting is more cost effective than motion sensors as they give a constant spread of light and avoid creating dark areas.

Many places of worship have already installed lighting of this type and have found them to be effective against persistent problems. Care must be taken, however, when siting these units to ensure that they are not accessible and themselves vulnerable to theft or damage.

Before deciding on a particular form and siting of a particular form of lighting, first consider the reasons for the lighting:

  • to illuminate vulnerable areas on the vertical surfaces of a building in order to reveal anyone attacking the property, for example trying to force an entry, climbing fall pipes or moving onto a roof area;
  • to reveal an intruder in an unlit area between a floodlit building and an observer's position;
  • to enhance the aesthetic appearance of your building;
  • for amenity purposes for example to light a path, doorway, fire exit.

The decision on keeping your building locked or allowing unrestricted access by visitors is up to individual places of worship. Before any decision is made it is essential to discuss the matter with your insurer, who may require the building to remain locked when it is not in use.

The following is given to assist your decision:

  • places of worship should ALWAYS be locked at night.  This is an uncompromising piece of advice based upon the responsibility of society to seek to protect its heritage;
  • isolated buildings are more vulnerable than those with natural surveillance from surrounding occupied properties;
  • unlocked buildings are more vulnerable to theft and damage than locked ones;
  • places of worship which are left unlocked have a reduced risk of damage if an "official" is present at all times;
  • theft of property is less likely if valuables are removed to a secure place when not in use.

The options available, taking into account the above, are:

  • to leave the building open and unattended at all hours (which is not advised);
  • to lock at night and leave unattended during the day;
  • to lock at night and provide occasional attention during the day, perhaps using the attention of local residents or casual visits by members of the congregation;
  • to lock at night and provide an attendant (perhaps on a rota system) at all times whilst open;
  • to lock at night and encourage ways to make your place of worship subject to regular use during the day.

The decision is yours, but please, keep your community police officer informed of what you are doing, and again be warned that leaving the premises open and unattended renders the risk of theft and damage more likely.

If you decide that your place of worship is to be kept open during the day, you should always ensure that valuables, if not removed from the building, are locked away in a secure area which is protected by doors fitted with good quality locks and a security alarm.