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IP Video Cameras in Houses of Worship

January 1, 2018 jill Blog
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By Greg Hartzell

For decades, a house of worship was a sacred place that could leave its doors open both day and night. Crime would be left at its doorsteps.

But times have changed, and so have the criminal mentality towards churches, synagogues and mosques. All around the nation, the faithful are finding criminals unfazed by the prospect of burglarizing a sanctuary.

Securing a house of worship today requires a multifaceted approach to deter the growing acts of theft, violence and vandalism. Security can take the form of everything from access control systems to security guards.

For the purpose of this article, however, we are going to look only at the role video surveillance cameras play as a means of deterring, detecting and investigating crimes.

When it comes to protecting houses of worship, video surveillance is just an initial step and needs to be accompanied by other measures.

However, there is no question that video cameras do make a house of worship a much less desirable target for a hostile planner.

By conveying a strong security presence with indoor and outdoor cameras, a church shows it won’t be an easy target. Frequently, that alone is enough to stop a criminal act.

Do Churches Need Video Surveillance?

As the security technology landscape has evolved, so has the array of video surveillance cameras available to church leadership. We will discuss those options later, but first we need to answer a more basic question: “Do houses of worship need video surveillance systems?” For the following three reasons, the answer is “yes.”

First off, it is not just mega-churches today that contain expensive physical assets. Even a small or mid-size church will have items that a thief would target, such as audiovisual systems, unique building components, musical instruments and money from collection and fundraising activities.

The growing tide of burglaries at houses of worship is a sign of the end of a social taboo that once protected the money collected to help the poor and the valuables displayed to honor a higher power.

Second and far more serious is the threat of violence. There has been an unmistakable uptick in acts of violence or “acts of deadly force” at houses of worship. A “deadly force incident” is defined as any act that could (or did) result in a death or that requires intervention that could result in a death.

In 2014, 176 deadly force incidents resulting in 76 deaths were documented nationwide at churches and faith-based organizations. This passed the previous high mark of 139 reached in 2012 when 45 people died.

Finally, there are hate crimes and vandalism. The FBI reported more than 1100 incidents it listed as hate crimes against churches in 2016. These can range from spray painting graffiti to arson. While vandalism may simply be random property damage, it can also be committed with the intent to intimidate the congregation.

The Rise of IP Cameras

Security cameras have evolved over the past 10 years, moving from traditional analog CCTV technology to IP (Internet Protocol) networking. Analog cameras were once the only choice for security.

However, the introduction of IP surveillance systems has all but made analog obsolete. More churches are discarding their outdated analog hardware — time-lapse recorders, CCTV monitors, and switching units — and replacing it with IP cameras, network video recorders, mobile apps and cloud-based storage.

There are several reasons for this migration. For one, IP cameras offer sharper, crisper images with resolutions up to 20x higher than analog systems, ranging all the way to 4K ultra-HD cameras. Higher resolutions translate into fewer cameras covering larger areas, and lower total cost of system ownership.

IP cameras let churches utilize their existing CAT5 or CAT6 Ethernet cabling instead of running all new cables. Besides reducing installation costs, this makes it easy to add cameras as needs change.

In addition, software-based IP cameras can offer intelligent video features that improve surveillance system performance. Facial recognition, motion detection, audio detection and people counting are some of the video analytics available on high-end IP cameras.

Finally, because they are a product of the Internet age, IP cameras let authorized users remotely view live video or search recorded images on nearly any PC, tablet or iPhone/Android smartphone. For example, if the camera detects motion it can send an email to a smartphone along with live video at any hour, anywhere.

The takeaway is that IP cameras are an absolute must for any church surveillance system today, no matter how large or small. With their rise in popularity and advancing technology, the myriad of IP camera choices can feel overwhelming.

Here are a few features you’ll want to know about to help homeowners navigate the options and make the best choice for your house of worship.

1. Camera Types

There are three basic designs when it comes to IP cameras. Bullet cameras are named for their streamlined, bullet shape. Bullet cameras are ideal for one directional monitoring since they typically do not have capability to move or zoom in.

Dome cameras are, of course, dome shaped. Unlike the bullet camera, it’s difficult to tell where a dome camera is pointed, increasing its purpose as a deterrent. “Speed domes” are a variation that spin quickly to capture a broader range of images.

At the high end of the chain is the PTZ (Pan, Tilt, Zoom) camera. Designed for coverage of large areas, a PTZ has the ability to move and capture different angles, making it the performance equivalent of several fixed-sight cameras. A PTZ security camera can be pre-programmed or controlled by an operator in a remote location.

2. Resolution

Resolution defines the amount of visual data that an IP camera is able to capture. IP camera resolution is measured in megapixels (MP) or “millions of pixels” and is sometimes given in horizontal and vertical pixel dimensions.

For instance, if a camera is 1280×1024 resolution, then the camera is 1.3MP (1280 x 1024 = 1,310,720 or 1.3MP). The higher the resolution is, the more data the camera can capture, resulting in better clarity of the video.

3. Power Over Ethernet

Instead of running a separate power cable to each camera, along with an Ethernet cable, “PoE” lets you transmit power over the data cable itself, saving up to $300 per camera and freeing up installation limitations since an Ethernet cable can run up to 100 feet. The PoE standard 802.3af supports higher power ratings needed for motorized cameras.

4. Wide Dynamic Range

When viewing an area with challenging lighting conditions it’s best to select a camera that provides good wide dynamic range (WDR). For example, when you view a church entryway with a large window, a camera is required that either provides backlight control or WDR.


Infrared (IR) LED lighting enables IP cameras to capture clear footage in low light or even no light conditions. Unlike humans, an IP camera can see infrared light, so when those wavelengths reflect back, it’s as if the camera is shooting footage in an illuminated room. The more IR LEDs that a camera has, and the longer their range, the better it is able to see at night.

6. Weatherproof/Vandal Resistance

If you plan to use cameras outside, make sure you purchase models that are weatherproof which is often referenced as being IP66 rated. Otherwise, water or dirt might interfere with the quality of your video feeds or, worse yet, damage the camera’s sensitive electronics.

Cameras are available with thermostatic controls, which allow it to heat or cool to prevent condensation from forming over the lens and obscuring its sight. Cameras that are “vandal resistant” are referred to as being IK10 rated.

When properly installed, IP cameras create a safer, more secure environment for houses of worship and the people they serve.

Greg Hartzell is director of Toshiba Surveillance & IP Video Products Group,