How To Prevent Burglaries and Vandalism at Places of Worship

Those who work in the security industry know that it’s extremely important not to become too comfortable. Even if you’re not a for-profit business, the facts are that if your building houses valuable items, your building is a target for crime. This remains true even for places of worship like synagogues,  mosques and churches. For this blog, we spoke to Jim McGuffey, who is one of 130 security professionals worldwide to hold all three ASIS International board certifications in security accredited by the Department of Homeland Security. He specializes in security for places of worship and he gave us some valuable security advice. We will provide real-world, New Jersey-specific cases of security breaches at places of worship combined with McGuffey’s advice below.  

How To Prevent Burglaries and Vandalism at Places of Worship

On August 24, 2016 NJ.com reported on the theft of two Torahs and some silver religious pieces valued at $80,000 from a synagogue on West Side Avenue in Jersey City. The burglaries occurred back-to-back and officials surmised that the crime was an inside job. A great way to prevent crimes like this from happening is to install an integrated access control system.

“There are certain rooms that nobody should be in, and you can always have an integrated system where it’s like, ‘alright, somebody sets off the motion sensor and a camera is activated, and then someone can look at the camera and see what’s going on, “ McGuffey said. “But, without motion, you almost have to have somebody there all the time. That’s where an integrated system with cameras, access control and motion detection all work together with policies, procedures and well-trained personnel to make a truly effective protection system.”

In McGuffey’s mind, the most effective protection system involves a combination of three things: the proper technology, policies and well-trained personnel.

“An effective protection system will be one that has policies and procedures related to all of the technology used and all of the training necessary for security and safety,” he said. “You have well-trained personnel and they don’t necessarily have to be security officers because not every house of worship can afford security officers, but they can have well-trained volunteers and technology working together. In other words, you have to have the three working together in order to have an effective protection system.”


Unfortunately for two synagogues in North Jersey, they didn’t have this three-pronged security approach in effect, and the synagogues were vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti. The Asbury Park Press reported that, after discovering the graffiti, a chairperson at the synagogue was “shocked and nauseated” after seeing the vandalism. On top of that, officials at the synagogues were upset that the children would have to see the anti-Semitic graffiti.

However, during cross examination, the Defense attorney asked the aforementioned chairperson why cameras weren’t installed after the crime, because the Hebrew School parents offered to donate money to install security cameras immediately after the crime. Unfortunately, her response is the exact opposite of what McGuffey advises.

“Installing cameras doesn’t prevent crime,” the chairperson said. “It just records it.” This type of response is what leaves places of worship vulnerable.

“Although cameras are often used for post-investigation, they also serve as a deterrent. I mean, if you think about, if you’re going to steal something in any facility, would you steal it if you knew there was a camera watching you?” McGuffey said. “There’s some real logic to it, whether there is statistical data or not, there’s just some real logic to that, with it serving as a deterrent. They certainly act as a deterrent for the normal type of criminal activities.”


Another aspect of place of worship security to think about is child care services. For places of worship that offer daycare services, it’s essential to have a video surveillance system in place.

“I insist that where they have child-care, they must have cameras. Especially with infants because infants cannot speak for themselves,” McGuffey said. “So, if you drop a child off at a church daycare and he’s gotta go to the hospital and they find out he’s got a slight fracture, all of the sudden the question becomes: was it the parent? Was it the child-care giver? And there’s a big open question mark because an infant cannot speak for himself.”

It’s this type of proactive security approach that can save places of worship time and money in the long run. While the technology must be in place to properly secure the building, employees and volunteers need to be properly informed with effective policies and procedures in order to create an optimal security approach.

McGuffey also advises making sure that the outside facilities and shrubbery of a place of worship be maintained properly in order to deter crime. “If a window is broken, or the shrubbery is bad or not trimmed, it projects vulnerability. The shrubbery is another thing because criminals look for hiding places, if you have shrubbery growing up alongside the main entrances and now it’s 7 o’clock at night and they know people are going to be walking out, that’s where they could attack.”

Those in leadership positions at places of worship should take McGuffey’s advice and implement his three-pronged security approach that relies upon technology paired with policies. The first step in being properly secured involves being properly informed, and this information can be used to increase the level of security at any place of worship.


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