Sheriff offers church safety program

By Jeff Linville -
Combs -

DOBSON — Pastors worried about their churches now can reach out to local authorities for help in creating a church safety plan.

Break-ins are a common occurrence in Surry County, and sometimes the thieves strike churches.

• Last May, Sheriff Jimmy Combs announced the arrests of Robert and Christina Damiano for crimes at Westfield Friend’s Meeting Church and Fellowship Baptist Church (in Ararat).

• Last month, Surry and Wilkes authorities stated that they were seeking Todd Emerson Collins, 36, with a last known address of Ararat, Virginia, in connection with several break-ins.

From one raid Wilkes deputies recovered a pickup, chainsaw and two log splitters that Collins is charged with stealing from Crossfire United Methodist Church on N.C. 115, North Wilkesboro; a U-Haul tow dolly he is charged with stealing from Foothills Grocery on U.S. 21 in Thurmond and a cement mixer he is charged with stealing from Mount Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in North Wilkesboro.

Sheriff Combs said Collins was wanted in connection to other crimes in Surry County, too.

• On Dec. 27, Joseph Ervin Odum reported a theft at Stony Knoll United Methodist Church in Dobson. He said someone took a 2005 enclosed utility trailer ($4,000) loaded with tools, valued at $9,000.

• On Nov. 17, Judith Vaughn Johnson, of Pilot Mountain, reported a larceny at Westfield Friends Meeting. She said someone stole the Quaker church’s boxwood clippings from the location at Old Westfield Road in Pilot Mountain sometime between Nov. 9-16.

• A Clemmons man was arrested Nov. 5 and charged with breaking into Mount Herman Baptist Church in Dobson.

Steven James Boone, 25, was charged with one count of felony breaking and entering a place of worship.

• In September, the same church reported another theft. Between Aug. 30 and Sept. 2 an unknown person broke into the building on Mount Herman Church Road in Dobson and took several items, the church said. These included a Stihl trimmer (valued at $100), Robin leaf blower ($150), and cornhole game boards ($100).

• On May 26, Mitchell River Primitive Baptist Church reported a theft. Some time that week an unknown person removed a water pump from the well, creating charges of larceny and criminal damage to property. The well pump was estimated at $500 value.

• In October 2016, Haymore Memorial Baptist Church on Rockford Street was the victim of a theft, which involved radios being taken from two unsecured vans at the church, valued at $200 altogether.

• In June 2016, James Benson Rhodes Jr., 28, of U.S. 601, was arrested in connection with multiple break-ins.

The crimes occurred between May 16 and May 30 at Rockford Elementary School, in Dobson, CC Camp Volunteer Fire Department in Elkin, Blackwater United Methodist Church near Ararat, and Rock Hill Baptist Church in Mount Airy.

Giving help

The Surry County Sheriff’s Office is offering an updated Place of Worship Safety Program to churches in this county.

The program is tailored to fit the needs of each church and includes an individualized safety assessment that addresses potential safety issues from the property line to the center of the church building, according to Sheriff Combs.

“Our goal is to help provide each church with the ability to customize a safety plan that fits its needs and desired level of security,” said Combs.

The program includes presentations, information, resources and a multi-level safety assessment which will be available upon request of the individual church, described the sheriff. The program also seeks to further develop community partnerships and is not limited to the law enforcement aspect of church safety.

“Program planning has been collaborative, and has included Surry County Emergency Services, the Surry County Fire Marshal’s Office, law enforcement agencies, and outside training with consulting organizations,” said Combs.

“We are taking a proactive approach that will allow our churches to not only adopt a plan that covers security, but will also include medical, fire and other emergency responses.”

The updated church safety program material has been piloted at one Surry County church already, the sheriff said without mentioning its name, and the plan has received positive reception. The safety program is now available county-wide.

“The safety and security of our churches is a community effort,” said Combs.

Presentations and materials are available to all Surry County churches.

To request more information, contact Detective Justin Stirewalt at (336) 401-8944 or


By Jeff Linville

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.