Arson creates major financial losses for churches and schools and severe destruction to property. People set church buildings or schools on fire for many reasons. One of the most common is to destroy evidence following a burglary, or as an act of vandalism. Sometimes it is an accident. A homeless person may slip into the building through an unlocked door and start a fire with a candle or a cigarette. In one instance a girl age 13 started a church on fire as part of an occult ritual. An angry church member or student may commit arson. Some church fires are hate crimes. In some cases pastors or church leaders have started fires so the church can collect insurance money. Churches and schools that implement efforts to reduce crime, also reduce the likelihood of arson.
In response to the wave of church burnings in the 1990s, the federal government issued Church Threat Assessment Guide guidelines to church leaders to reduce the problem of arson and bombing attacks. These guidelines are summarized below, but should not be viewed as all-inclusive.
Area of vulnerability
The guide identifies the following churches as being at a higher risk:
- Churches located in isolated or rural areas.
- Churches left unattended for extended periods of time.
- Churches with unsecured doors and/or uncovered windows leave weak points for forced entry by intruders.
- The absence of an adequate burglar alarm system provides a determined criminal with additional time for criminal activity.
- Heavy shrubs and outside vegetation, and/or the absence of sufficient perimeter lighting, provides security for criminals, not victims.