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Church Security [Hardfacts]

Introduction:


Churches consist of many different types of premises; either in terms of their use; their nature, e.g. modern or historic; or their location, e.g. city, urban, village or remote rural areas; which taken together can lead to some varied, and often complex, security issues.

Churches occupying historic buildings often have valuable fixtures and fittings present and this factor, coupled with a common desire to permit public access and a frequently secluded location, means that they are increasingly regarded by some criminals as a 'soft target' and thus prone to crime.

This Hardfacts outlines some measures that can reduce the risk of theft and vandalism.

What is at risk?
Depending upon the church premises, items at risk inside may include: historic or valuable furniture (pews, tables, chests, etc); fittings (lecterns, lights, brasses, etc); paintings, silverware, cash, computers and audio/visual equipment.

Externally, buildings may incorporate lead or copper (roofing, gutters, down pipes, etc), and have historic or valuable gates, doors and glass - the latter often a target for vandalism.

Insurance   
Subject to its availability, insurance is one means by which financial recompense for losses may traditionally be provided. In this regard you should ensure that:

  •      Any insurance cover and related sums insured are adequate.


Note. Historic items can be difficult to value, so a professional valuation is often advisable.

  •      All insurer conditions relating to premises security are fully observed.

Of course, insurance isn’t a substitute for adequate security and, depending on individual circumstances, may either not be available at all or at economic cost; so let us look at what can be done to protect against theft.

Risk Assessment
As a first step you should look at your premises and take note of what theft attractive items you have, where they are located, their likely theft attraction and vulnerability, and then consider their replacement value and the possible impact of their loss. You should then consider how they currently are, or might better be, protected.

When considering current/future security it  can be helpful to think of ‘layers’ of protection, each layer needing to be overcome by thieves before they achieve their goal. Good security is usually achieved by having a complementary range of security measures in place at each ‘layer’ and overall. .

Note. In the event of theft, careful consideration needs to be given as to whether an item is replaced at all, replaced in smaller quantities, replaced with something less attractive/valuable or, if replaced like for like, is provided with enhanced security. If you don’t consider your replacement strategy in such terms it is likely you will suffer a repeat loss.

1st Layer - Removing/Reducing Attraction
Where practical, the cheapest means of preventing theft can be to remove or reduce the attraction of items likely to interest thieves. For example, by:

  •  Selling or otherwise removing valuable items to a secure store, e.g. to a bank vault.
  •  Substituting valuable items with copies.
  •  Regular emptying of donation tins, etc.
  • When opportunities arise, e.g. after a theft or during refurbishment work, replacing any lead/copper roofing/fixtures with materials unattractive to thieves, e.g.     coated steel sheet, glass reinforced plastic (GRP) or flexible (bitumised) felt.


Note. Consult your property insurer(s) before replacing any metal roofing with felt or other combustible materials. Planning and other permissions may also be required.

  •      Use of overt or covert ‘security marking’ products, e.g. those supplied by companies such as Selectamark and Smartwater.
  •      Display notices/window stickers to advertise your security measures.

2nd  Layer – Human  Surveillance
Where nearby ‘neighbours’ live or work within sight or earshot of a church it is worth asking them to inform you or the police of unusual activity. In this regard consider:

  •      Providing them with suitable contact details for church keyholders.
  •      Informing them of the times when the church will be in use or open to visitors and similarly, when you are expecting contractors to be present.


Note. Do not underestimate the value of such a simple measure. Many thefts, particularly of lead/copper roofing, have taken place where neighbours have seen the thieves in action and either assumed they were contractors working at the church, or have been told this by the thieves and accepted it.

  • Using timer switches or dusk sensors to turn lights on and off at appropriate times, either all around the premises or in areas of possible concealment, e.g. porches
  •  Don’t let hedges/shrubs become so large that they block a neighbours’ view of the premises and thus conceal thieves.
  •  Get someone to attend/check on the church if it is left open to visitors, and otherwise visit regularly to check the premises thoroughly inside and out.

Note. Damp or ingress of water may indicate unseen theft of or damage to roofing, so should always be promptly investigated.

3rd  Layer - Buildings
Thieves generally look for easy pickings, so take steps to make theft more difficult:

Preventing theft of parts of the building
The most common target is lead/copper roofing and related flashing, gutters and down pipes. ‘Hardfacts’ 3019 Metal Theft provides further information, but in particular consider:

  •      Hindering access to the roof by installing barbed/razor wire along roof edges or anti climb spikes to down pipes, etc.
  •      Painting down pipes and roofing with non-setting paint, sometimes called 'anti vandal' paint, to deter access/removal.

Note. To help avoid any legal liability that may otherwise arise, such security measures should be installed above 2.5 m in height, with suitable warning signs displayed.

Preventing theft of items within the building
Many church doors/windows have basic locks or weak construction. ‘Hardfacts’ 3017 Door & Window Security, gives further advice on physical security, but if in doubt seek the advice of a competent locksmith, e.g. a member of the Master Locksmiths Association. In particular ensure that:

  •  All doors/windows are in good condition, well attached to the building and secured whenever the premises are not in use.
  •  Entry/exit doors are fitted with a good quality lock, e.g. BS 3621 certified mortice lock or a high security closed shackle padlock and padbar. If in doubt seek the advice of a competent locksmith.
  • Keys aren’t left hidden under mats, etc.
  • Opening windows have key operated locks fitted if they are accessible, i.e. they are at ground level or could easily be reached by climbing.

Note. Leaded light and other weak/fragile windows are often best secured as ‘other windows’.

  •  Other windows, especially if fitted with expensive glass, are vandal protected by external mesh grilles or plastic screens.

Outbuildings
Outbuildings that contain attractive items, or things that could aid a break in to the main building, e.g. tools/ladders, should be well secured. Consider:

  •     Padlocking doors and permanently screwing shut opening windows.       
  •     Fitting bars/mesh to protect windows.
  •     Ride on mowers should have keys removed, and be secured in place by wheel clamps or padlocks and chains.

4th  Layer - Electronic Detection
Intruder alarms, and in some situations CCTV, are a good way of deterring or detecting crime.

However, churches can be difficult buildings in which to use electronic security systems, due to their potential for false alarms caused by legitimate visitors, insects, birds, bats, etc, so always seek the advice of a competent installer, e.g. one that is recognised by the National Security Inspectorate (NSI) or Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB).

Given the increased market that nowadays exists, stand alone roof alarms, often battery powered, have been developed and are fairly readily available.

‘Hardfacts’ 3015 Intruder Alarms - Guidelines for Purchasers and ‘Hardfacts’ 3004 CCTV - Guidelines for Purchasers, provide further advice. 

5th Layer - Internal Access
Restrict access to valuable items by:

  •      Mounting pictures, etc, at high level.
  •      Locking doors to an internal room/area.

Note. Consider this with care, as without an intruder alarm thieves may cause undetected and extensive damage in forcing internal barriers open.

  •      Keeping cash, silverware and small valuables in a security safe. Select a safe by its recognised ‘cash’ or ‘jewellery rating’, as confirmed by your insurers.

Note. Many churches have old safes which look heavy/secure, but which can be an easy target for modern thieves. ‘Hardfacts’ 3014 Cash Security - Theft provides further information.

6th Layer - Recovery 
The police recover many stolen items each year, but are unable to return them to their true owners without proof of ownership, so:

  •      Take photographs of valuable items and fittings, and record identifying features known to you, e.g. makers' names, marks, chips, scratches, repairs, etc.

Note. In the event of loss, such records can also assist in restoration/establishing values.

  •      Consider overt or covert ‘security marking’.

Key Action Steps

  • Review current security arrangements, and in particular those for valuable items.
  • Seek independent crime prevention advice, e.g. from the police.
  • Source security devices and systems from reputable suppliers/contractors
  • Be aware that any security measure that could be regarded as damaging the fabric of a historic church, or changing its appearance, may require the consent of  various church or public planning/regulatory bodies. If in doubt always check first.
  • Before proceeding with any security enhancements, seek the advice/consent of your property insurer(s).
  • Review security in the event of any loss

Sorces of Further Information

Other ‘Hardfacts’ in the Property Protection Security series, which are available in our ‘Knowledge Store’ at www.aviva.co.uk/risksolutions

Churchwatch  www.nationalchurchwatch.com

Master Locksmiths Association (MLA). Tel 01327 262255 or visit www.locksmiths.co.uk

National Security Inspectorate (NSI) - Tel 0845 006 3003 or www.nsi.org.uk

Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB) - Tel 0191 296 3242 or www.ssaib.org  

Selectamark Ltd. Tel 01689 860757 or visit www.selectadna.co.uk

Smartwater Ltd. Tel 0800 328 6268 or visit www.smartwater.com

The RISCAuthority www.riscauthority.co.uk

Your local police Crime Prevention Unit.

Your Insurer

Next Steps:

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  •  Email us at riskadvice@aviva.com

Please Note
This document contains general information and guidance and is not and should not be relied on as specific advice. The document may not cover every risk, exposure or hazard that may arise and Aviva recommend that you obtain specific advice relevant to the circumstances. AVIVA accepts no responsibility or liability towards any person who may rely upon this document.

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