When theft, injuries, and other incidents occur at ministries, surveillance camera footage can help provide an account of what happened. Security cameras can even deter crime. Consider the following points before and after installation.
Before picking up an all-in-one video security system from your local store, first consider your objectives. Do you just want to know what happened or do you want to be able to clearly identify who did it, too? How many cameras will you need? Will you want cameras indoors and outdoors? What, if any, exterior lighting is available for nighttime surveillance?
You’ll also need to consider your current network’s capabilities in terms of existing equipment and available bandwidth to determine if it can handle the increased network traffic required by the cameras. If your congregation is blessed with someone who has knowledge of networking and/or security cameras, enlist their help. Setting up a networked video surveillance system can be complicated. If you’re unsure where to begin, many local security system professionals can help.
You’ll need to determine if you want someone to constantly monitor the camera streams during events or if you only need someone to occasionally review stored footage. For example, if you have cameras installed in your children’s wing classrooms, determine if someone will monitor them during Sunday services and mid-week events. Whichever method you choose, consider incorporating it into your written policies and procedures. More importantly, make sure you follow whatever is outlined in your policies and procedures regarding surveillance cameras.
1. Reduce the potential for crime
Criminals often look for less secure facilities, or facilities that offer the least chance of being caught. They’ll typically avoid buildings with alarm systems or surveillance cameras. In one study, security cameras were found to be an effective deterrent to burglary.* Security cameras may also deter other criminal acts.
2. Resolve disputes
Video surveillance can provide an account of what happened if there is a dispute about a situation. Did someone ignore caution tape and trip over a construction hazard? Did a youth volunteer have inappropriate contact with a child in a classroom? When you can go back and review video footage, it enables ministries to have an additional layer of protection against false claims or allegations.
3. Capture criminal activity
Depending on the type of camera and its placement, you may be able to identify the person(s) responsible for a crime. Most cameras will at least show what happened, enabling you to provide a general description of the perpetrator(s) and any associated vehicle.
4. Provide remote access
Being able to see inside your building is helpful, especially when an alarm is triggered in the middle of the night. If ministry leaders can quickly see inside and outside the building, they’ll be able to provide useful information to responding law enforcement. And if there is someone breaking into the church, they can notify the police, who can make the call a priority. This also provides peace of mind for whoever responds to the alarm, letting them know if it’s just the wind that opened an unlocked door or if someone has smashed through the front doors. Additionally, remote access can be given to local law enforcement, giving them a birds-eye view as they respond to the call.
Depending on how your camera system is set up, remote access could pose a potential cyber security issue. It’s important to work with a network professional to make sure access, and devices, are secured.
Aside from the benefits of surveillance cameras, your efforts should balance ministry security with individual privacy. Think about the following issues before pressing the “record” button:
Notification. It’s a good idea to post signs announcing that surveillance cameras are in use. Even when not required by law, a notice sign near the property line or building entrance can improve the deterrent effect of cameras.
Privacy. Placing cameras in public places—such as the sanctuary, a foyer, classrooms, or hallways—where an individual can expect to be seen by others – is generally acceptable. However, restrooms, locker rooms, and other private spaces should be off-limits for cameras. If there are areas where individuals may not expect to be seen by others, it’s best to ask a locally licensed attorney for guidance before placing cameras in those areas. If an attorney approves, consider posting signs in the area notifying people that cameras are in use.
Surveillance cameras that record sound may raise additional privacy issues. Many states have laws that require at least one person's consent to record a conversation, while other states have laws requiring that all parties in a conversation consent to an audio recording. See this article for more information about audio recording, and consult a locally licensed attorney for specific guidance.
Video footage can provide helpful evidence if an incident occurs on ministry property. But, how long should a ministry keep surveillance video recordings? In some states, organizations are required by law to retain recordings for a certain amount of time. If there are no legal requirements, ministry leaders can decide for themselves how long to keep recorded footage. However, if a ministry becomes aware of an incident, it’s a good idea to preserve the recorded footage.
This decision on how long to store footage may be based on:
Statutes of limitations. In some situations, people can sue or bring charges for events that occurred several years ago. Ask a locally licensed attorney about the statutes of limitations in your state.
Storage capacity. Retaining years of footage is likely not feasible. Decide how much space the ministry wants to dedicate to video storage and proceed accordingly.
It’s vital to keep surveillance footage secure so it isn’t accidentally deleted. There are several ways to securely store footage. If you’re concerned about your current practice, consider working with a trustworthy information technology vendor who may be able to find ways to improve your ministry’s data security procedures.
* Kuhns, Joseph. Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender's Perspective. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology. 2012. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268444817_Understanding_Decisions_to_Burglarize_from_the_Offender's_Perspective. Accessed 1-18-2019.
Posted 2019. Updated November 2020.
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