Trust me, thieves don’t pick locks.
I hear and read this all the time. However, press the point, try to find out why the person saying so believes it, and they will inevitably fall back on either anecdotal evidence, which is frankly worthless, or FBI Crime Data, which unfortunately, in the case of non-destructive entry, isn’t much better than worthless. Why? Because locks are rarely subject to forensic investigation. I’m not saying that there is an unchecked surreptitious entry problem in this country. What I am saying is that I have no idea how often locks get picked, and no data to back up any conclusion.
According to the FBI’s 2012 Uniform Crime Report, 2,103,787 attempted burglaries were reported. Of those, 59.7% were successful forcible entries, 33.9% were “unlawful entries” not involving force, and 6.3% were attempted forcible entries. Of those reported burglaries, only 12.7% make it to a prosecution. We also know, from numerous studies of populations across the country, that one third to one half of all burglaries go un-reported. Erring on the side of caution, let’s up the FBI’s numbers by one third to account for unreported burglaries, and estimate that there were approximately 2.8 million burglaries in 2012. Of those, we can estimate that one third were non-destructive entry. That leaves us with ~930,000 non-destructive entries in 2012 alone. Again, I’m not suggesting that all of those were lockpicking, many will be due to unlocked doors, open windows, or other oversights, but I have to believe that some of the locks, any of them, were manipulated open.
Forensic Locksmithing has been an active discipline in the US since the late 70s, but unfortunately still finds itself mostly relegated to insurance disputes in civil courts. I don’t believe that it would be worth anyone’s while to tediously investigate every lock involved in a non-destructive entry, and as a good friend pointed out to me recently, “It doesn’t matter if locks are being picked, because the common targets of burglary don’t require that level of sophistication.” On an incident by incident basis, it isn’t worth investigating, and knowing whether or not locks are being picked regularly won’t have an immediate impact on the security lifestyle of the average consumer. Forensically investigating a single lock won’t likely help anyone. That 12.7% clearance rate on burglaries leaves plenty of room for improvement, but I don’t think forensics alone is going to tip the scales. However, I still think the data is important.
What refined data provides is information for criminologists, social scientists, criminal justice and law enforcement professionals, and, of course, security hardware manufacturers. If we could investigate even 1% of the locks involved in non-destructive entries, we would have a massive study of several thousand locks to definitively answer whether thieves pick locks. And no matter what the answer is, no matter if it is 1% or 20% of entries, that data could be the seed that improves the future security of all of us.
Interested in learning more? Join me this May for my Secure360 Pre-conference session, “Lock Forensics: Methods of Entry and Analysis”.