POLICE are calling on communities to step up their vigilance to combat thieves who strip churches of lead.
Since January, about 50 churches in Lincolnshire have been targeted in 60 separate attacks.And with more than 600 churches in the county to protect, Lincolnshire Police says it is "unrealistic" for its officers to thoroughly police them without help from residents.
The most vulnerable sites are being identified so that more resources can be allocated.
But to regularly patrol all the churches is impossible without other priorities suffering.
Officers are now appealing to people to report all suspicious activity in their areas and note down detailed descriptions of potential perpetrators and vehicles.
Chief Inspector Mark Housley, of Lincolnshire Police, said: "We are calling for the public to take a real interest in the security of their local churches.
"We all have a responsibility and a role to play in making our communities safe and, if we work together, we can make a real impact on this issue.
"The key here is early reporting in terms of descriptions of people and cars, particularly registration plates.
"We want you to act on your instincts and report any activity you think is out of the ordinary.
"You won't be wasting our time – your information could lead to the arrests we need.
"Stealing a large amount of lead takes time and a reasonably large vehicle to transport it. It's not a five-minute job, so let's all be on the lookout for them."
Along with churches, homes, schools, colleges, libraries, doctors' surgeries and even a crematorium have been hit by lead thieves.
All Saints' Church in Branston has suffered more than nine thefts and attempted thefts in the past year.
It replaced the roof with a terne- coated stainless steel – a project that cost more than £20,000.
At the time, church warden Nigel Dickin said the church could not claim nine times because insurers only insure to a maximum of £5,000 for metal theft in any calendar year.
The proliferation of thefts is thought to be because there is great demand for lead as global prices continue to rocket.
And one of the main factors is unscrupulous scrap dealers, who weigh large amounts of stolen scrap with no questions asked.
Even reputable dealers are only legally obliged to record the name and address of the person weighing in the scrap, and there is no requirement for proof of ID.
A recent "dip test" of regional dealers by police found that seven out of ten names and addresses in records were fictitious.
Work to tighten regulations is being done nationally, but it could take more than a year for this to happen, according to police.
Liz Jackson, curate for churches in Lincoln City Centre, said: "We have had lead taken from some churches. I support the idea of communities getting more involved.
"The police can't look at everything all the time and we can't either.
"The churches in the city centre are surrounded by houses and people, and if they were all more vigilant, that would certainly help."