Case of the donation-box bandit

It was a short story from the Glendale News-Press, a community paper of Los Angeles Times. About 300 words dedicated to a report on repeated petty theft at a Glendale Catholic church. And the amount of space devoted to this news was to be expected. The LAT has an ever-shrinking newshole, and even in fatter times murders have been briefed.

But it had the potential for much more.

In the case of this particular donation-box bandit, we’re talking about $400 or so. The story refers to a “tool” the crook has been using to get into donation boxes. (Crow bar or screwdriver or mallet?) And Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz gives the quote that encapsulated what I was thinking when I started reading this story:

“Unfortunately, it is an easy target because it is a church that often opens its doors to the members of the community, and the church does have members that donate money to various causes,” Lorenz said.

A very true statement. But I’ve never heard of a church having its offering plate or donation boxes targeted. Part of it, I’m sure, is the fact that God sees all and even sinners have a difficult time picking His pocket. As church facilities director Bill Evans is quoted saying:

“You would think that it being a church that someone wouldn’t steal from them, as sacred as it can be,” Lorenz said.

Beyond that, though, is such theft a rare offense or is it commonly of such a petty nature (unlike the gospel of wealth) that it goes unreported?

I’m not sure if the reporter here needed to explore that. Like I said, the contents and nature of this story were exact what I expected. But she could have.

When I was starting out as an intern reporter at the Ventura County Star, a time before they were thoroughly archiving online, I learned to always report the context of every story in order of local-state-national. At times, I probably overemployed this principle, for example including county, state and national statistics about dog bites in a local centerpiece about a dog — Miss April, if I recall — being mauled by two other dogs at a park.

Though not included in reporter Megan O’Neil’s first pass at the donation-box bandit, there is definitely potential to do a follow-up that explores the prevalence of church-offering thefts, that explores the spiritual guilt that could come from stealing from a house of worship and that evaluates the way churches handle security and what they could learn from their interfaith counterparts.

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  • Jerry

    There are a few stories about such thefts that I found by searching for church donation box theft. And there are web sites selling more secure donation boxes such as

  • Robert King

    Inner city churches, especially Catholic churches with donation boxes next to various shines and alcoves – so available to the public – are not infrequent victims of such crimes. My own parish had to replace its donation boxes recently after a thief broke the locks on the existing ones.

    The surprise to me is that this story got mention in a newspaper at all.

  • Jackson Senyonga

    It’s unfortunate that people would take from donation boxes. A local church here has a team pick up the money in the boxes between each servie.

  • Rev. Michael Church

    I’m with Robert on this. It’s hardly unusual — I’m shocked it actually generated press coverage.

  • Martha

    “But I’ve never heard of a church having its offering plate or donation boxes targeted.”

    Really? Robbing the poor box is that rare in America?

    I’m edified!

    Particularly as, on New Year’s Eve, a fire was set in a parish church here in an attempted burglary, which caused €30,000 worth of damage. I have no idea why the robbers felt it necessary to attempt to burn their way into the back of the church rather than breaking down the doors, but there you go.

  • Chas Clifton

    Donation box-robbing goes back to the Middle Ages, or so I have read in histories of crime. Thieves bobbed for coins with lumps of beeswax (or other sticky stuff) on a string.

    The response was sometimes to build boxes with internal shelves that blocked a straight drop to the money. And so it went.