Just How Effective are Locks?

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

We are told to use locks all the time, and by and large we use them. But just how effective are those locks? While there is no one size fits all answer to that question, locks depend a lot on two basic principles:

  • Keeping honest people honest by eliminating temptation.
  • Keeping dishonest people honest by either making it too difficult or too noisy to break in.

Of those two, the second is obviously our biggest concern and what I really want to focus on here. Any lock, even the cheapest and weakest, will work to take care of honest people, but what about the dishonest ones. With the ready availability of lock picks, shims, and bump keys today, along with numerous YouTube videos teaching how to pick locks, one has to wonder how smart the criminals are getting. Are they finally catching up with the movies, or are they still resorting to brute-force methods?

According to the FBI, which tracks all sorts of crime, 60.5% of home burglaries are accomplished through forced entry, compared to 33.2% which were unlawful entry. That means they got into the home without using force, such as through an already unlocked door or window, but can also include picking locks. However, that doesn’t mean that 33.2% of burglars are picking locks. In fact, only 4.1% of all illegal entries recorded by the FBI are accomplished through picking door or window locks.

That’s the good news. It appears that we don’t have to worry too much about criminals becoming as smart as those on television. Why is that? Because picking locks takes too long. They look for methods that allow them to get in and out quickly, without attracting attention to themselves. That means methods that are not going to be very noisy.

Even then, burglars recognize that forced entry will be noisy, so what they’re really after is being able to control the amount of noise they’re making. They will have already cased your home and the neighborhood, so they’ll know if there’s anyone around. With that information in hand, they’ll have a pretty good idea of how much noise they can make without attracting attention. Any noise they do make, they’ll want it to sound like things that people expect to hear, like the blow of a hammer, but not like breaking glass.

The trick here then isn’t just what kind of lock you have, but how that lock interfaces with the rest of your home’s security. A normal door lock or deadbolt going into a wood door frame really isn’t all that hard to defeat. All it takes is a well-placed kick. But that same door lock and deadbolt, going into metal, is something else entirely. A kick with a boot isn’t going to get them in.

So the key is thinking in terms of “locking systems” rather than just locks. In other words, we need to look at not only what the lock itself is but what it goes into. Then we need to look at how easy it is to break that thing it is going into from the home.

Looking at another example, a padlock going through a hasp may be hard to break; but if that hasp is attached to a plastic gate to a plastic shed, the hasp can be torn away easily, giving access. Granted, thieves aren’t going to be interested in looking in your shed, but they may be interested in breaking in through a basement access that isn’t any more secure.

In order to make your home security effective, you’ve got to be looking at it from the viewpoint of the thief. How hard is it going to be to break into? What do you have to break in order to do that? How much noise is it going to cause breaking that?

Recently we had a string of burglaries in a nearby storage center. One wouldn’t expect thieves to bother with that, but there are often valuables mixed in with the junk. There are also few people around at night, making it easy to break in without attracting attention. All they needed was a cordless drill with an abrasive disk on it to cut the locks and gain access.

As I was looking over the situation, I noticed that only even-numbered units were being broken into. That’s due to the design of this particular center. It had sliding doors, rather than overhead doors, so every other door was staggered, even ones outside and the odd ones inside. The thieves could get to the even-numbered locks with their abrasive cutting wheel, but not the odd-numbered ones. All it took to thwart their efforts was to weld pieces of angle iron over the locking mechanism on the even-numbered doors so that there wasn’t room to get the cutting wheel to the lock’s shank.

Security can be as easy as this. Looking at your current security through the eyes of a thief, trying to figure out what they will do. Then, all that’s needed is to make it hard enough for them to do what they were thinking of doing, that they give up and go someplace else. That may not be good for those other people whose home they burglarize instead of yours, but it will keep your possessions safe.

Stopping a thief without firing a shot is always better than stopping them with a bullet. So, even though you should keep your powder dry and your survival gear close at hand, it’s a good idea to do whatever you can to deter criminals.

Dr. Rich

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