- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Metropolitan Police are investigating a series of robberies at congregations in Northwest in recent weeks where thieves are suspected of casing churches and stealing cash, credit cards, computers, televisions and even a vacuum cleaner — sometimes during the worship services.

“Whoever is doing this knows how churches operate,” said the Rev. Amy Butler, senior pastor at the Calvary Baptist Church in Northwest. “It seems like somebody is making a really studied approach.”

Mrs. Butler said her office was robbed on a Sunday about two months ago. She said she thinks the robbery occurred during a church service.

Thieves got away with her wallet, credit cards, camera and cell phone. Mrs. Butler said about $3,000 was charged on her credit cards. She said she filed a police report, but so far there have been no arrests.

Mrs. Butler said she thought the robbery was an isolated incident until she heard similar stories from other pastors at a monthly meeting of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations.

Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said he heard news reports of a robbery at the Church of the Epiphany in Northwest and issued an e-mail alert to the 40 congregations in his organization. He said he was flooded with responses and has been informed of at least 20 such robberies in about eight weeks.

“Pastors and churches are an easy target because they are open, inclusive environments, and thieves have realized these are easy victims for computers, electronics and cell phones.” Mr. Lynch said.

Mr. Lynch said he thinks thieves have been using church services to get access to the churches, determine how much money is collected, and where cash and electronic equipment are stored.

He said some churches have decided to stop printing the amount of money collected in poor boxes or special collections to discourage thieves.

Mr. Lynch said that the robberies are not confined to churches of any single denomination. Among the churches in Northwest that have been robbed in recent weeks are St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Church of the Ascension and St. Agnes, Luther Place Memorial Church, Metropolitan Community Church and New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. He said he has not been able to determine if the robberies extend beyond the Northwest churches his organization represents.

Officer Kenneth Bryson, a Metropolitan Police spokesman, said the most recent incident of a church robbery occurred on Thursday at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church in Northwest. He said a woman was confronted at that church by a man with a handgun at about 11:40 a.m. The man demanded money. He stole the woman’s purse and left on foot.

He said it is not clear whether the robberies have been committed by the same persons.

“We would always look at any similarities as part of the ongoing investigation,” Officer Bryson said. “At this point, it is too early to say if the same individual is involved.”

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