Open Doors, Secure Spaces
Bold Believers Church of Christ in Dayton, Ohio, strives to maintain a hospitable, welcoming environment for people coming through its doors, but it also keeps an eye out for people who don't have good intentions.
"We have principles and policies in place that allow us to make some discerning decisions about who's really in need, and who's trying to take advantage of the situation," says Cleavon Matthews, minister at the church.
Like other houses of worship, the church also faces the reality of attacks on soft targets around the world. A shooting in September 2017 hit home for the congregation: in Tennessee, a gunman opened fire during Sunday morning services at a fellow Church of Christ, part of the same denomination as Bold Believers. One person died and seven were injured.
In 2017, when the church wanted to upgrade its worship space to accommodate its growing congregation, it moved into a building that had formerly housed a Jewish synagogue. The new space features three levels and 40,000 square feet of space.
But leaving its former building meant abandoning a sense of comfort and security, Matthews says.
"We were at the other location for 30 plus years; there's a level of comfort and a sense of safety there, and it's a much smaller facility that didn't require as much security," he says. "Moving here was a tremendous cultural change for our church."
The new worship space is in a less-developed area, and one of the major hospitals nearby is preparing to close later this year, which Matthews calls a significant blow to the neighborhood.
"There are efforts being made by some groups to revitalize the area, but the socioeconomic status of the area is poor," Matthews says. "One of the reasons we came here was to make a difference in the lives of people here—especially children, women, and families."
When the church began to renovate the building's interior and exterior, it knew it wanted to invest in a security system to protect the facility and expensive construction equipment.
"In this area, security is of the utmost importance to us and it was one of the first things we invested in once we acquired the building," Matthews notes.
The previous owners of the synagogue had a subscription with Sonitrol of SW Ohio, a video and audio verification service that monitors for alarms in real-time. There were already a few cameras installed around and outside the building. Bold Believers decided to take over the existing subscription to Sonitrol and add additional cameras and a video management system, both manufactured by 3xLOGIC. Sonitrol of SW Ohio was also the integrator for the technology upgrades, which began in April 2017.
The surveillance system includes Multi-Sensor NVR cameras from 3xLOGIC that detect motion and glass break. There are also door contact sensors that alarm when a door is opened. The church has more than a dozen cameras in and around the building, seven of which are multi-sensor.
"It's not a small building, so that's why it's so important to have the cameras to cover all of those different levels and the corridors," Matthews notes. "That way, you know if someone's in the building and you can find out where they are."
The church can arm the system at any time, usually when no one is on the premises. If an alarm goes off—whether it be a door contact sensor, motion detection, or audio—it's immediately picked up at the Sonitrol monitoring station. Sonitrol dispatchers can view a live feed of the cameras to verify that the alarm is legitimate, and contact law enforcement.
Another element that appealed to Matthews about Sonitrol was the ability to arm the system and view camera feeds and alarms remotely through an app on his smartphone, which other church leaders have access to as well.
In February 2018, the system caught a trespasser who walked into the building in the middle of the night.
"The individual entered through a door that had been left unlocked, so it was just like he was going into his own house," notes Duane Pettiford, a leader at Bold Believers. "That particular door did not have a contact sensor, but the motion sensor cameras were able to pick him up."
A dispatcher at Sonitrol immediately responded to the alarm and called law enforcement, who quickly arrived on scene. Because Bold Believers had numbered its doors for Sonitrol, the dispatcher was able to give police a guided, step-by-step description of where the trespasser was in the church.
The church set up a list of contacts for Sonitrol to call in the event of an alarm, so Pettiford received a call at about 3:30 a.m.
"I was in a deep sleep and not very cognizant of what I said, but I was very happy with the results, and that they were able to prevent any damage from being done or things from being taken," he says. "The product did its job."
The mobile feature comes in handy daily, Matthews adds, to cut down on false alarms and provide peace of mind.
"Sometimes we get calls because of the construction that's going on and there's a loud noise. I can look [at the video] and say, 'Okay, well there's a contractor there, there's no need to call the police,'" he says. "It eliminates some of those calls that probably would have been made, and the police would have wasted their time."
Pettiford iterates that Sonitrol keeps the premises safe by having a set of eyes on the building around the clock, allowing the church to focus on working with the congregation and local population.
"We're in a precarious position, because we want our doors to be open for people that want to know Christ, so we can't put up bars," he says. "We have Sonitrol to keep the doors open."