Places of worship in Singapore on alert in wake of theft cases
Installing tamper-proof locks on donation boxes and hiring security personnel are among precautions some places of worship have taken in the wake of a string of thefts from Catholic churches, mosques and Taoist temples.
The police told The Straits Times that a total of 11 police reports were made over thefts at places of worship in the first six months of 2023. This was more than double the number made during the same corresponding period in 2022.
The figure includes cases of thieves stealing from places of worship and people stealing from one another at places of worship.
The police did not say how many cases involve stealing from places of worship.
The Methodist Church in Singapore has increased security at its 46 churches by deploying paid security personnel to guard some of its church premises and having its staff undergo a security enhancement programme, Threat-Oriented Person Screening Integrated System.
Donation boxes are also removed immediately after each service to reduce opportunities for theft.
Dr Anthony Goh, chairman of the council on communications for the Methodist Church, said it has encouraged volunteers to watch out for suspicious behaviour during weekend services, and urged churchgoers to opt for cashless donations.
He added: “Since the pandemic, our church congregations have been encouraged to make offerings via electronic means, and this has further reduced opportunities for pilferage.”
Leong San Buddhist Temple said it has deployed more volunteers to patrol its premises during off-peak hours and adjusted the position of several closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to directly face the donation boxes.
To prevent thieves from stealing from its donation boxes, the Race Course Road temple has also bolted them to the ground and uses tamper-proof locks, said the temple’s administrator Mr Glenn Soh.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said donation boxes at mosques are numbered, labelled and properly secured to hinder the removal of the boxes, or the cash kept in them.
Cash donations from donation boxes are counted at frequent intervals, recorded in the mosque accounting system, and deposited into the mosque bank accounts, said a Muis spokesman.
ST has also reached out to the Hindu Endowments Board for comment.
Earlier this month, three men were charged with stealing an unknown amount of cash from donation boxes at the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Separately, Hoon Sian Keng temple in Changi Road said it would change the locks on its doors after two thieves stole “thousands” from donation boxes on Sept 2 in the wee hours that morning.
Mr Soh said that while Leong San Buddhist Temple takes such thefts seriously, it believes in giving offenders a second chance.
For instance, a thief had stolen cash from donation boxes of the temple in July. Upon viewing the temple’s CCTV records, the temple members confronted the culprit and issued him a stern warning, opting not to make a police report.
“As a Buddhist temple, we believe in compassion and forgiveness. We understand that people may steal for a variety of reasons such as poverty, desperation or addiction,” added Mr Soh.
“We also understand that stealing from a religious institution can have a deep impact on the community.”
Thian Hock Keng, one of the oldest Hokkien temples here, encouraged those dealing with financial stress to reach for help.
Its spokesman said: “Temples are places of worship which promote good virtues and the righteous path.
“We urge anyone who is in financial distress to seek help and not to resort to unlawful means.”