CHURCHES have had to take security into their own hands by putting patrols on during services in a bid to deter would-be thieves.

Following a spike in the number of thefts towards the end of last year, including some from the cars of worshippers, a number of local churches have decided to handle the issue themselves.

And now, as darker winter evenings approach, there is a call for the volunteers who patrol the grounds during services, masses, weddings and even funerals, to be offered some kind of training or guidance from the PSNI on how to tackle crime.

Councillor Joan Baird told those gathered at the most recent meeting of the District Policing Partnership it is sad that churches have had to try and handle the issue themselves.

“Most churches now are putting on their own patrols,” she said. “Many of them now have someone walking about to patrol the area, it’s a pity it has had to come to that but we have seen less of these thefts since the patrols began I think. Perhaps we could get those people together and see what they should and shouldn’t do.”

Chief Inspector Ken Mawhinney said it is something local police will look into, but added that people should not try and tackle a would-be thief themselves. He advised them to call the police should they see anything suspicious on their patrols.

A spokeswoman later said, “Police are aware that many churches monitor their car parks during services and would remind those involved in this activity that they should never approach anyone involved in criminal activity but should contact police immediately.

“Any group that requires further advice or assistance should contact police in Banbridge on 0845 600 8000.”

Upper Bann MP David Simpson recently teamed up with local police to offer information on protecting yourself from car crime and theft.

“Many people will know of the spate of church time burglaries carried out in the past by heartless thieves which caused so much stress to a number of local families,” said Mr Simpson.

“With the approach of autumn and winter and the attendant longer and darker nights some thieves might well be encouraged by the extra cover that this would give to them in their criminal activity.”

Information leaflets on how to protect against this type of theft have been handed out locally.

“We have several hundred of these leaflets available for constituents across our three full-time constituency offices,” he said.

“We would encourage people to avail of them in order to try to counter those who would prey upon people whenever they are at church.”