“Just because you have a cross on the door, doesn’t mean you’re exempt from all those things that affect our community,” said church security researcher Carl Chinn. “God protects us absolutely. I absolutely believe that. But, I also want my grandchildren seat-belted. Church security should be the same way.”
For the last 20 years, Chinn has been compiling records of violent crimes on church properties by scanning local media outlets, government agencies, and public records.
“I was not interested in church security at all. I wasn’t interested in any kind of security actually. I was a building engineer, But, in 1996, we had a hostage situation at the ministry I worked at (New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO). I was one of the hostages. So, that had its fair share of wake-up calls to get my attention,” Chinn said about the reason he began researching crimes.
It started in Alabama….
“ The FBI used to consider mass murder as four or more killed in a single incident. They changed that a couple years ago to three or more, but my research was based on their earlier model. So, when you consider 4 or more killed in a single incident. There had never been a mass murder on a church property in the United States in our history until 1963 in Birmingham. “
That’s when a man bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church during the height of the civil rights movement, killing four young girls.
“While most of the world looks at that, as it is, a racial thing. I looked at it differently. It was an attack on a faith-based organization. It was good people,” Chinn said. “ Since that event, keep in mind we’d never had a mass murder [at a church] prior to that, Charleston, South Carolina was the 13th mass murder at a faith-based organization since 1963. Something has changed.”
What are the chances…..
The reality of it is that the chances of a stranger barging into your church and firing shots are slim. The FBI reports that only 3.8% of the mass killings they tracked between 2000 and 2013 took place at churches, but Chinn says the number of other violent crimes and homicides on church properties is significantly higher.
“The three most common attack triggers in all of these homicides I tracked were domestic violence, robbery and something that I call personal conflict; an argument between two or more people,” Chinn said. “It’s two to one more likely that someone will more likely die outside your walls than inside the church. Two to one, so we want to make sure you’re keeping eyes on those parking lots.”
The Problem Here at Home….
In 2015 alone, there were at least 6 violent crimes on church properties in Alabama, and that’s just the information gathered from various news articles. The number could be even higher than reported.
In Huntsville, four people were robbed at gunpoint in the parking lot of Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church.
In Dothan, a boy faces arson charges after he set fire to a church with people still inside.
In Selma, Three people were injured, including the pastor, when a man opened fire at an estranged girlfriend during Sunday Service.
Even here in Mobile, Our lady of Lourdes Catholic Church was sprayed with bullets overnight back in September. At Corpus Christi, parishioners were shocked to find police tape when they walked out of Sunday mass after a teenager was shot and stuffed inside the trunk of a car that was driven to the church parking lot.
What’s That have to do with Churches….
Chinn said one of the critics he receives for tracking crimes like these, is that they don’t have to do specifically with the pastor or the church itself. He said this disassociation is dangerous and if a crime happens on a church property, the church should take ownership for it.
“Often businesses have a clearer understanding of that than churches do because businesses understand the Premises Liability Act. They’re responsible for incidents on their property. If somebody gets shot or killed or hurt it doesn’t have to because they were upset about the cost of toilet paper. It happened on their property so they’re concerned about it.”
“Churches for so long have asked the wrong question, ‘well what’s that have to do with our church?’ Did it happen on your property? Take ownership of it. You’re responsible for your community,” Chinn said.
More and more pastors and church leaders are starting to draw the connection, and are diving into ways they can improve their security without hindering their ministries. That’s coming up in PART II of our series that airs Tuesday at 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.