Back to Church to Rob Again and Again

In a growing problem, robbers ransacked churches and made off with thousands.

Nov. 23, 2010— -- A spate of church burglaries in suburban Oregon and another in San Francisco has prompted tightened security around houses of worship, including ramped up patrols and high tech surveillance equipment.

The extra measures resulted in the arrest of a suspect in six church robberies in Springfield, Ore., a town neighboring Eugene.

Ryan Schroder, 28, of Springfield was held without bail in Lane County Jail on six felony charges of burglary. Schroder was accused of robbing cash boxes at five churches, including one he struck twice, in a three-week crime spree, said Springfield Police Sgt. David Lewis.

His arrest this week came just days after he finished his "post prison supervision" following 18 months behind bars for two church robberies in 2004, Lewis said.

An alert cop, Officer Angela Glemser, on a special midnight patrol of churches noticed a broken window at New Life Center Church and called for backup.

When officers threatened to release a police dog to track the burglar, Schroder emerged from the building, Lewis said. His backpack was stuffed with cash stolen from the church, Lewis said.

Police said there was a pattern to the robberies. The Springfield Police Department's Russ Boring said the break-ins all happened in the early morning hours, all had signs of forced entry, and that all the stolen items were small electronics or money.

But Springfield is not the only community plagued by church robberies. In mid-October, police in San Francisco reported that six Bay Area churches had been robbed over a two-month period. One of those churches, St. Francis Episcopal Church, was hit five times.

After the string of robberies, St. Francis Episcopal decided to fight back, spending $20,000 on high tech surveillance cameras along with motion detection lights. The church also installed a formidable front gate controlled by a coded combination lock.

So far, the added measures have brought an end to the rash of burglaries.

"I think it's the sign of our times, of the desperation that people feel and also people knowing that a church is vulnerable and many of us don't have security systems," St. Francis Episcopal's Rev. Mark Ruyak told ABC News affiliate KGO-TV in San Francisco.

A Growing Epidemic or a Sign of the Times?

Six churches in total were hit between August and September in the southwest part of San Francisco, and police said they don't think the break-ins are connected to one another.

As in Springfield, the SFPD has urged people who live near these churches to report anything they think that may look suspicious.

"We were broken into five times in five weeks, each time on a Saturday night," Ruyak told today. "It's nice to get back to a better weekly routine, especially with Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up."

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