Securing Sanctuaries: Crime and Violence Prevention for Houses of Worship

May 23 / Dan Keller

In recent years, houses of worship have increasingly found themselves at the center of tragic events involving crime and violence. These sacred spaces, meant to be havens of peace and spiritual solace, have become targets of vandalism, theft, and even more heinous acts. As such, it's imperative to recognize the critical importance of crime and violence prevention measures within these sanctuaries.

Upholding Sacred Spaces

Houses of worship serve as more than just physical structures; they represent pillars of community, faith, and cultural identity. Ensuring the safety and security of these spaces is essential for preserving their sanctity and fostering an environment of trust and tranquility for worshippers.


Recognizing the Risks

Tragically, houses of worship are not immune to criminal activities. From petty theft to hate-motivated violence, these places can fall victim to a range of threats. Recent incidents of vandalism, burglary, and even mass shootings underscore the pressing need for proactive measures to mitigate these risks.


Rising Incidents:

The frequency of violent acts in places of worship has increased alarmingly. According to a report by the FBI, hate crimes against religious institutions rose by 34% between 2014 and 2018. This includes vandalism, arson, and even mass shootings. In 2019, the Anti-Defamation League reported that anti-Semitic incidents, including those targeting synagogues, increased by 12% from the previous year. Similarly, attacks on mosques in the United States have spiked in recent years, with a significant uptick following high-profile global events that have fueled anti-Muslim sentiment.


Statistics Highlighting the Necessity for Action

  • Hate Crimes: The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program documented 1,650 hate crime incidents in 2019 alone, with a significant portion targeting religious institutions.
  • Active Shooter Incidents: Between 2000 and 2018, there were 16 active shooter incidents in houses of worship in the United States, resulting in 99 deaths and 63 injuries.
  • Arson and Vandalism: A 2021 report by the National Church Arson Task Force noted over 1,200 incidents of arson, bombings, or attempted bombings of religious institutions between 1995 and 2020.


Implementing Preventive Strategies

Physical Security Measures

Enhancing physical security infrastructure is a crucial aspect of crime prevention for houses of worship. This includes installing surveillance cameras, alarm systems, and access control mechanisms to monitor and regulate entry points. Additionally, fortifying doors and windows can help deter unauthorized access and protect against forced entry.


Training and Preparedness

Equipping clergy members, staff, and volunteers with the knowledge and skills to respond effectively to emergencies is paramount. Conducting regular training drills, developing emergency response protocols, and appointing designated security personnel can help mitigate the impact of potential threats and ensure a swift and coordinated response in crisis situations.


Community Engagement

Building strong relationships with local law enforcement agencies, neighboring communities, and interfaith groups can bolster the security posture of houses of worship. Collaborative efforts such as neighborhood watch programs, information sharing networks, and community outreach initiatives foster a sense of solidarity and mutual support, thereby enhancing overall safety and resilience.


Promoting Inclusivity and Welcoming Spaces

While security measures are essential, it’s equally important to maintain an atmosphere of openness and inclusivity within houses of worship. Embracing diversity, promoting dialogue, and fostering a culture of acceptance can help deter extremist ideologies and foster a sense of belonging for all worshippers, regardless of background or belief.



Houses of worship hold a sacred place in the fabric of society, serving as beacons of hope, comfort, and spiritual guidance for millions around the world. Protecting these sanctuaries from crime and violence is not just a matter of safeguarding physical structures; it's about upholding the values of peace, compassion, and community that they represent.


ACPI is hosting our next live virtual seminar titled Crime and Violence Prevention in the Faith-Based Community next week, May 29 and 30. Designed for law enforcement, security personnel, and faith leaders, we cover detailed strategies on preventing crime for houses of worship. To learn more and register visit:

ACPI is the worldwide leader in enabling law enforcement agencies, businesses, institutions, and security professionals to reduce criminal activity and risk and enhance quality of life through the delivery of practical, unbiased training and certification programs.  Visit our website at to learn about our comprehensive list of both live virtual and self-paced training courses.

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