Theft prevention

All premises present opportunities for thieves and places of worship can be a specific target. 

We offer some guidance on how you may reduce the risk for some of the most common types of theft. 

Secure areas

Areas containing valuables or safes should be kept locked, even when the building is in use. It is important that security is enough to deny access to people who are prepared to force internal doors or climb over partitions. The public area of any place of worship should be limited, so that one ‘official’ is able to observe all visitors.

This creation of internal secure areas provides the opportunity to store items of medium value.

Robes and vestments may also be kept there but additional security within these areas is likely to be necessary for the keeping of other valuables such as parish registers, brassware and other items of value. Sometimes it is possible to alarm these inner areas at little cost.

If an interior door is not substantial it is better to ensure that no item of value is kept inside the room. A notice marked ‘private’ will serve to keep out most casual visitors but be warned that this could attract walk-in thieves.

Targeted items and preventions

Theft from oil storage tanks situated in the grounds of properties may occur.

If you have an oil storage tank on the church premises which is not stated on your policy schedule, please contact your insurance provider with full details (via your intermediary if you have one) to ensure your insurance cover is adequate.

Consideration should be given to:

  • physical protection of the church grounds to help prevent easy access for thieves and their vehicles;
  • improve or add security lighting or CCTV;
  • security of the oil tanks - Various products are available from specialist oil tank suppliers. Insurers would require any tank to have a suitable locking device to help prevent theft.

 

Spilled oil can also cause damage to property and surrounding land. Not all such damage may be covered by your insurance policy and you should take some preventative steps to stop this occurring. Ensure that your tank is sited within a suitable bund wall which is sufficient to contain the contents of the tank in the event of spillage, malicious damage or failure of the tank. The tank and the bund wall should be regularly inspected to ensure there are no signs of deterioration or wear.

OFTEC or the ‘Oil Firing Technical Association’ for the petroleum industry offers advice and guidance for those who use and store oil at their premises. There are rules and regulations that may apply to you and OFTEC will help clarify these for you.

For more information visit www.oftec.org or call 01473 626298.

Reclaimed stones, such as Yorkshire stone has become popular for homes and gardens. Due to the increase in demand the value has also increased which has made churches more susceptible to theft of decorative features and stones from paths.

To reduce the risk, it is worth considering:

  • Reviewing the church security. Lock gates and consider removal of large or over grown bushes which may obscure the view of neighbours.
  • Restricting vehicular access to the place of worship, to prevent the movement of heavy stones.
  • Marking the stone with SelectaDNA or Smartwater so any stolen stone can be identified. See below for more details.  

Most churches will handle cash which increases your risk of robbery and theft.

It is advisable for your church to undertake a risk assessment, which includes when, where and how cash is handled and stored. It could also consider who handles and has access to the cash as well as the likelihood of theft and how it could happen.

To reduce the risk, it is worth considering:

  • minimising the risk by ensuring that the amount of cash on the premises is kept to a minimum. Places of worship can do this by encouraging members to make electronic payments rather than by cash and banking any cash more frequently;
  • banking money with at least one other person and varying the route and the time you go;
  • storing cash in duplicate locations or safes;
  • handling cash should be done in an area where the public do not have access.

 

Cash delivery, collection or making up of wage packets could be transferred to a ‘Cash and Valuables in Transit’ (CViT) company. These companies must hold SIA Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) status.

Theft from offertory boxes is probably the most common crime within a place of worship, but is also one of the easiest to prevent. The person who steals from offertory boxes generally acts on impulse because the opportunity is there.

To protect your donations, it is worth considering:

  • installing a metal wall box with a flush-fitting heavy metal front. The box should be firmly bolted and grouted into the masonry;
  • emptying the wall box on a regular basis, so not allowing more than a few pounds to accumulate;
  • displaying a sign to inform that the wall box is regularly emptied.

NEVER use a wooden box, regardless of whether it is chained, screwed or bolted into position
NEVER leave the key inside the building – the criminal will find it.

Discourage any action which puts personal safety at risk

Property marking is an internationally accepted means of rendering your property identifiable both to yourself and the police. In the United Kingdom this is affected by using the postcode of the premises to which the property belongs, together with the name or part of the name.

We recommend that every item of value (where practicable) within your place of worship is marked and a photograph is taken. The purpose of marking property in this manner is to ensure that it can be returned to you if recovered after being stolen.

It is also useful to place small notices in the building to the effect that all your property is marked. Casual visitors may not notice these, but the potential criminal will. Property marking is a quick, do-it-yourself task, costing very little. The following methods may be used:

Ultraviolet marking pens

This is an ultraviolet, fibre-tip pen, obtainable from most large stationers. The mark is invisible until viewed under an ultraviolet lamp. It is advisable to mark on the most porous area where it is likely to be handled least and where it is least likely to be exposed to direct sunlight. Sunlight has the effect of causing such marks to fade after a period of about eighteen months. Therefore, it is advisable to re-mark property after this period.

The advantage of this type of marking is that the criminal is unable to see it himself and thereby will not take steps to remove it. It also does not affect any resale value and for this reason is suitable for electrical goods and other items you may wish to sell.

The disadvantage is that it is not visible, which limits the deterrent effect. The thief knows he will have no problems in selling it on to innocent purchasers.

Engraving your property

Marks can be engraved by use of a diamond-tipped pen, other sharp pointed tools or by an electric engraver. A stencil is often used to ensure neatness when the mark can only be placed in an obvious position. Stencils also allow relatively small lettering, which is not always the case with freehand.  Any metal or plastic items can be marked, and the value is not affected if done by someone trained in this technique, such as a jeweller. Glassware can also be engraved but you are advised to consult a professional in this case.

Ceramic Markers

“Ceramic” or “titanium” pens can be obtained from specialist stores and are effective on ceramic surfaces.  Marks have the appearance of faint pencil marks and are impossible to remove without damaging the ceramic surface.

Branding

Branding is a method of marking which may be good for wooden items.

DNA / Forensic coding system

SelectaDNA

SelectaDNA offers churches a highly effective way to protect both its valuable contents and the building itself. SelectaDNA acts as a superb theft deterrent, as criminals know that it links them to crimes they commit and by erecting warning signs, your church immediately becomes a hard target.

SelectaDNA forensic property marking kits are ideal to mark valuable equipment and artefacts inside the church, both quickly and safely - The water-based adhesive dries clear so will not damage or deface any item. The solution contains a UV Tracer and unique synthetic DNA code. This means that every item you mark will carry your churches unique forensic code and this allows police to trace the item back to you through forensic analysis should the item be stolen.

Data is held on a LPCB and insurance approved database and there are NO Annual Licence Fees.

SelectaDNA is a Police Preferred Product and it is sold by Selectamark Security Systems plc – a family-owned business and experts in crime prevention products since 1985.

For more information visit https://www.selectadna.co.uk/

Smartwater

Smartwater is one of the leading forensic coding systems. It carries a unique forensic signature more robust than DNA and proves the ownership of any item, linking the criminal with the crime scene to enable prosecution and a conviction.

Smartwater can be applied to interior and exterior metals, along with any other valuables. When subjected to ultraviolet light its presence is immediately obvious by a tell-tale fluorescent glow. The smallest amount is enough for forensic scientists to verify the registered owner. For more information visit http://www.smartwater.com

Red Web

Red Web is a dye that contains a unique biosynthetic DNA that is registered to the customer. It is painted on surfaces that, when touched by thieves, marks them with a highly visible red dye. It also contains an ultra-violet element that becomes stronger as the dye fades and washes out. The unique registered DNA in each system used in the crime is matched through analysis to provide solid evidence and gain a conviction. For more information visit www.redwebsecurity.com

Making a record

In addition to marking property you are advised to take a photograph of any valuable item. It will enable photographs and a description to be circulated in trade and police publications, as well as assisting with your insurance claim and identification if the item is found. We recommend you keep a file of these photographs and review your inventory at least annually.

Photographing property may be undertaken by a keen amateur or by specialists in this service. Items should be photographed against a neutral background with a ruler alongside to indicate actual size. Wherever possible, hallmarks and any other identification marks should be photographed.

One person should have responsibility of creating an inventory of all items in your place of worship. Anything of value that can be moved should be included. If in doubt record it, your knowledge of what is valuable may not be as good as the criminals’.

Measures items accurately and record all signs of damage such as scratches, dents, splits, tears and any other blemish and imperfection. These records should be electronically stored and backed-up or if they are handwritten the record should be kept in one book, which should be stored in a safe place away from the church. The items should be checked every month by the responsible person and records updated accordingly. Any losses should be immediately reported to the police. Any items purchased or presented to you should immediately be added to the contents of the book.

The number of people with access to safe keys and combinations should be kept to a minimum. Care should be taken when opening a combination lock that no-one reads the combination. Never leave a safe unlocked, not even for a moment.

Where the property to be stored is too large for a wall or floor safe, a free-standing type is necessary.  It is important that free-standing safes are bolted to the floor and walls wherever possible.  It is worth remembering that walls provide excellent protection to the rear and sides.

Safes should not be within a public area of the building where it will attract attention, a vestry or similar area is better, and some places of worship have created a secure area which is kept locked at all times when not in use.

Items of exceptional value relate not only to the actual marketable value but to the value of the item to the community. Included in such items are the obvious silver communion sets as well as pictures, decorated holy books, scrolls and other artefacts. Such items should not be stored in infrequently used buildings, unless you are prepared to spend considerable amounts on additional security and alarms.

Alternatives for storage include local and national museums, or bank vaults. Copies can be made if there is a wish to retain a daily connection with the item or if it is needed for daily use. It is always possible to 'borrow' the actual items back for special occasions or exhibitions. This may appear inconvenient and even second best but the regrettable fact is that, if your treasures have not already been stolen, an attempt will almost certainly be made within the next few years if you continue to keep them openly in your place of worship.

It is inadvisable to store such items at the home of the incumbent or of an official unless their homes also have security precautions of a high standard.

Please note your insurance policy may only pay for the cost of the replacement of valuable items in modern materials, also if you have property of exceptional value it may need to be specified in your insurance policy schedule, if you are in doubt please call your insurance provider.

Generally, places of worship are unsuitable for the storage of ancient documents. Apart from the crime prevention considerations, there is the question of preserving against decay, wear and damage.

Therefore, you are strongly recommended to examine the need to retain any original document within the building.

Marriage certificates are at risk of being stolen to create false marriage records for illegal immigration purposes.

Storage
Registers and stock must be kept in a fire resistant safe (ideally with internal dimensions of no less than 310mm or 465mm) and must be kept within the registered building, or in another building approved by the Registrar General. Keys should be held securely at all times and a note made of who holds any spare sets.

Record of issue
It is vital that the certificate record sheet provided by GRO and the records of all marriages for which you have not submitted a quarterly return are kept separate from the actual Registers and certificate stock. In the event that marriage registers are stolen these marriages would need to be reregistered.

It is good practice to undertake an annual check of certificate stock held to provide a level of assurance that nothing is missing and to likewise check on the physical condition of registers held.

Reporting lost/stolen stock
Where you find stock missing or stolen, the loss must be reported immediately to GRO on telephone number 0300 123 1837. You should also inform your Local Superintendent Registrar.

Further information on your responsibility in relation to Registers and certificate stock can be found within the GRO “Guidebook for The Clergy”