Churches stand tough against arson

| January 15, 2010

Church leaders, as well as law enforcement, have taken a very strong stance in the battle against church arson.

After three churches in less than a month, and two on the same night were set ablaze, pastors and church leaders around Athens are beefing up around-the-clock security.

“This is something we don’t want to take for granted,” Perry Smith, pastor of Living For The Brand Cowboy Church, said. “We are having a meeting about it tonight, but ever since Monday, we have hired off-duty officers to stay at our building around-the-clock.”

Smith is not alone in this way of thinking. Other churches in Athens are using either volunteers or hired personnel to keep watch throughout the day and night inside their buildings.

Though the First Baptist Church and First Presbyterian Church have very good security systems, their officials believe manpower is what is needed for now to detour any would-be criminals.

“We have cameras in every room and every hall in all of our buildings,” Steve Akin, of First Baptist-Athens, said. “When there is any motion in front of the cameras, they start recording.

“We just felt like we needed to add some people to be here around-the-clock to watch for any criminal activity during this time.”

Smith said Cowboy Church has been hit twice by burglars, and both times the robbers were captured because of its cameras.

“We have 22 cameras around our building,” Smith said. “Every time we have been hit, the cameras saw them. We just turned the video over to the police, and within a few days, they were caught, but this is a lot different.”

Smith said he believes this could be a hate crime, not just a random arson.

“If it was someone just stealing stuff, and then trying to hide it by burning down the building, it doesn’t make sense because the value of the stuff they steal is not very much.

“I’m afraid it could be a hate crime of some kind. There is a lot of that going on in Malaysia right now with Islamic people burning down different temples.”

Athens police and the sheriff’s department have not only stepped up patrol of all churches, but added officers in unmarked cars to patrol in certain areas.

“We have always patrolled churches, but we have now increased our officers on duty at night,” Sheriff Ray Nutt said. “We want to make sure we, and I’m talking about the Athens PD as well, are keeping a close eye on all the churches in and around Athens.”

Phillis Kidwell of First Presbyterian Church in Athens said his church is using staff members to secure their building at night.

“We have our own staff who have said they would work at night to keep our building safe for us,” Kidwell said. “We don’t want to take anything for granted with these people who are doing this.

“We have both fire and burglary alarms, but we don’t even want criminals to think our church is a possibility for a crime.”

Law enforcement made it clear to church leaders at a meeting Wednesday that they did have the right to protect their property in any way they saw fit, but if they were going to be there, it would be best to let them know, especially if they were going to be armed.

“We don’t want any accidents,” Nutt said. “We want to know if they are going to be in their buildings at night keeping watch, because if we happen to drive by, and we see a shadow moving around inside, who knows what could happen. It’s just best for all if they let us know.”

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Category: Church Security