National Survey of Congregations’ Fear of and Preparation for Crime

In my haste to get a post up yesterday about the safety and security threats faced by congregations, I neglected to address two important findings from Christopher Scheitle’s recent article based on a national survey of congregations: Religious Congregations’ Experiences with, Fears of, and Preparations for Crime: Results from a National Survey.

I dealt only with the first of three issues covered by Scheitle: experiences with crime. He also covers fear of and preparation for crime.

Table 4 in the article (above) includes the major findings of the survey. Using 7 or higher on a 10 points scale (from 1 = “not afraid at all” to 10 = “very afraid”), Scheitle finds greater concern over vandalism and breaking and entering than assault or murder on the congregation’s property. This is in line with the actual crimes reported by these same congregations, though the fear of crime (as is usually the case) is higher than the actual likelihood. Jewish congregations are much more likely to be afraid property crimes than average, and surprisingly Muslim congregations are less afraid than average. OTOH, Muslim congregations are three times as likely to fear a congregant being assaulted or murdered on their property. Synagogues and black Protestant churches are also more likely than average to fear violent crime on their property.

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The survey also asked congregational representatives to rate the likelihood that certain crimes would be committed against the congregation or its members. Again using 7 on a 1 (= “not at all likely”) to 10 (= “very likely”) scale as the cutoff, Scheitle finds just 1.96% of congregations rating any violent crime as likely. Here, again, mosques and black Protestant churches stand above the rest, though synagogues do not.

The final piece of the puzzle concerns what security measures congregations report taking. Congregational representatives were given a list of 18 possible measures. (see *** below). Scheitle’s Table 5 reports the major measures taken. 40.16% of congregations took 4 or more of the 18 security steps listed. The most common measure overall was alarm systems, used by 42.77% of congregations (including 70.74% of synagogues and 64.8% of black Protestant churches). Very few congregations employed full time security guards (1.09% overall), though a larger share used part time/special event security guards.

The survey did not ask about using police for security or about having armed security teams composed of congregants (though perhaps some respondents included them as “security guards”). It also didn’t ask about policies for and against congregants carrying weapons at services. Given these limitations, we have proposed a series of questions for inclusion in another national congregational survey that would allow us to have better systematic data on armed security for houses of worship in the US.

***LIST OF MEASURES AVAILABLE: (1) Alarm system on entry-door(s), (2) Motion detectors inside building, (3) Security camera(s), outside of building, (4) Security camera(s), inside of building, (5) Security camera(s), parking lot, (6) Installed additional lighting around exterior of building, (7) Installed additional lighting in parking lot, (8) Limited the number of entry points into parking lot, (9) Limited number of entry points into building, (10) Visitors must be buzzed into building, (11) Fence around exterior of property, (12) Gate at entry to parking lot, (13) Security guard(s), full-time, (14) Security guards, part-time (15) Security guard(s), special events only, (16) Person living on property of congregation, (17) Signs banning weapons on property, (18) Signs reminding people to lock cars.


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