It was with a mixture of concern, discouragement and even compassion that prompted more than a dozen Ramona residents to attend a recent meeting on church crime.
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Crime Prevention Specialist Barbara Wallace and Detective Mike McNeill led the meeting, held Feb. 7 in the sheriff’s substation in town.
Sheriff’s officials had requested that each church in Ramona send a representative to the meeting, which focused on recent crimes against local churches. Along with the clergy were Sheriff’s Department volunteers and concerned citizens.
“The biggest criminal problem with the churches in town right now is theft of copper and other metals from heating and air conditioning units,” said McNeill. “More than a half dozen incidents have occurred since late November 2011.”
He added what nearly everyone in the room suspected: “The thieves are usually selling the material to recycling centers, and using the money to buy drugs.”
McNeill and Wallace pointed out that churches often become crime victims because they are “easy targets.” McNeill said each of the recent thefts has taken place “in the middle of the night and out of view.”
The theft of the wiring used in the heating and air conditioning units at the churches follows previous crimes, which have included the stealing of religious statuary and breaking into cars.
The session included not only tips on preventing crime at churches, but Wallace gave advice on business and personal protection strategies. Her tips included reminders to repair hinges, locks and door frames on all doors; use either locks, dowels or anti-lift devices on window frames; make sure all lights work and install brighter bulbs where needed; and be especially careful with landscaping.
“All bushes should be trimmed up, so that someone’s feet would be visible from the bottom against the ground, and they should also be trimmed down, so that no one is able to hide behind them,” she said.
Throughout the meeting, attendees asked numerous questions regarding the safety of their buildings and equipment. In response to one query, McNeill said that he did not believe that recent incidents of tagging, or graffiti, were being done by the same individuals taking the metal wiring. But he said that, in addition to criminal charges, crimes against churches could be prosecuted as hate crimes.
Wallace encouraged those present to report any suspicious activity or crime to the Sheriff’s Department as soon as possible, and not wait on or hope for someone else to do the reporting.
“We want to make our churches as safe as we can,” she says. “We know you would rather use your money to help people.”
Anyone interested in learning more about crime prevention or reporting criminal activity at local churches may call Wallace at 760-738-2425.