One of the greatest misconceptions that plague the name of lock picking and lock sport is that the craft itself is born from malicious roots.
That lock picking is a skill founded upon criminal intent, and anyone wishing to learn of it beyond the scope of locksmithing must have some mischievous underlying purpose.
But if we for a moment take a step back and look at the data regarding lock picking and home burglary, along with some logical reasoning to explain it, we will see that lock picking isn't the monster that society believes it to be.
As we are about to see, most criminals don't pick locks.
Note: Possessing lock picks is not illegal in 94% of the United States and in the majority of the world. Like many things, it's all about how you use them.
Burglary Statistics and Lock Picking
If we look at the most recent surveys and statistics regarding home burglaries, we'll notice that lock picking as a criminal means of entry already begins to diminish.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program
- 60.5% involved forcible entry
- 33.2% were unlawful entry (non-forced)
- 6.3% were forcible entry attempts
What does this mean so far?
To begin with, lock picking is not a means of "forcible entry." It falls under the category of "unlawful entry" and is defined as such by the U.S. Department of Justice—as we will soon see.
So because lock picking does not fall under "forceful entry," we can immediately rule out 66.8% of burglaries as being aided by any degree of lock picking.
But what about the other 33.2%? That's still a pretty hefty number.
Let's look at the most recent National Crime Victimization Survey from the U.S. Department of Justice, which breaks down the method of entry used for each burglary involving "unlawful entry" (again, that's non-forced entry.)
If we look closely at Table 7 from this survey, we can see clearly that of the 33.2% of unlawful entries, only 4.1% (2.2% when household members were present) had anything to do with picking a lock.
And that's high-balling it, considering shimming window latches and sliding door locks fall under the U.S. Department of Justice's definition of lock picking.
If you were to separate lock picking from shimming latches, the percentage of lock picking incidents would very likely evaporate.
I state this because many burglars claim that shimming sliding doors is a quick, easy, and common method of entry—this is why it's recommended you place a security bar or wooden dowel in the door to prevent it from opening if the lock fails.
However, because we have no data to separate these two methods of bypassing—that is, lock picking and shimming—, we will stick with the higher survey number of 4.1% for good measure.
But wait, that's 4.1% of ONLY non-forced burglaries. What about ALL burglaries—forced and non-forced?
Let's do some simple math to find out!
- 100% / 33.2% = 3.012%
- 4.1% / 3.012% = 1.36%
(Here's the math for that explained)
That's only 1.36% of TOTAL burglaries that utilize either picking a lock or shimming.
Note that I'm not using these numbers to say that malicious lock picking isn't a problem.
My point is that those who practice lock picking are not criminals in the making, nor are lock picks the tools of a burglar.
It has actually been found that the most commonly used tools of a thief are screwdrivers, crowbars, and hammers—thus the 66.8% of forcible entries.
And even more so, if we again look above in Table 7, the most common means of unlawful entry is simply due to criminals walking through an unlocked door or window—no tools needed.
But these are the statistics; what about the reasoning behind them? Why don't criminals utilize lock picking more as a means of entry?
It's actually more obvious than you may think!
Reason 1: Lock Picking Can Be Slow and Unpredictable
Lock picking is a rather unpredictable craft. There are so many variables that can affect how long it takes to get through a lock.
You never know what madness lurks inside a lock.
You never know how many pins you may be facing, what the bitting is like, if there are any corrosion or broken parts that may stump you, or if there are any additional security features that will laugh in your face as you struggle along the path to an unlock.
The reality of picking a random lock is that it can be fast or it can be painfully slow, difficult, and in all ways unpredictable. This is not the ideal method of entry for anyone whose very freedom depends on haste and predictability.
Every second that a burglar spends attempting to pick a lock is a second closer to being seen, caught, or arrested.
While it's fairly simple to learn how to pick a lock and become proficient, the ability to do it reliably under pressure is a different story.
Lock picking also requires practice, a ton of patience, and money to invest in tools and practice locks.
Why would any thief waste time and effort when they can more quickly—and more reliably—kick in or jimmy open a door?
Lock-picking is not the skill of a thief. It is the skill of security professionals and hobbyists.
Reason 2: Quick, Easy, and More Predictable Methods
If you have ever watched an interview with an imprisoned burglar—if not, I would highly recommend the one below—you'll quickly realize just how careful and calculated they can be.
Often times they will scope an entire neighborhood, keeping an eye out for any specific habits and routines from homeowners that they can take advantage of. Most burglars are opportunistic and will only look for easy and friction-less entries such as:
- Open doors and windows: This is particularly true about bathroom windows which homeowners leave open to vent steam or even other windows that are left open on hot summer days. 17.2% of non-forced entries are from already open windows and doors.
- Unlocked doors and windows: An astonishing 39.5% of non-forced entries are due SIMPLY because a burglar could walk up and open the front door or find an unlocked window. It's crucial to lock your doors when you're not using them.
- Cheap doors or no deadbolt: When it comes to forced entry, 74.5% involves some sort of damage to the door. Burglars love cheap doors with no deadbolts, as they are easy to kick in for fast entry. So use a good deadbolt.
Burglars will always do their best to avoid friction, whether it be people, dogs, or even locks. There are always plenty of opportunities like the ones above to take advantage of.
With so many other quick, easy, and most of all predictable means of entry, why would anyone ever risk sitting at a stranger's door with a set of lock picks where they are out in the open for the world to see?
Burglars seek the smallest risk, which can mean finding either an unlocked door or one that is weak enough to quickly kick down. So one of the best preventative measures you can take is securing your front door.
Reason 3: Don't Want to Be Caught Red Handed
Neighborhood watch and nosy neighbors are typically pretty good about determining who does and doesn't belong in a neighborhood.
While burglars typically do their best to blend in when searching for their next target, they know there is always a potential that someone could call the law.
The last thing a burglar wants is to be caught roaming a random neighborhood with lock picking tools in their pocket, which could easily be considered intent to burglarize.
Burglars are always keeping an eye on the exit—whether that means a physical escape or an excuse.
As I hope this little article puts to light—lock picking is not a criminal activity, lock pickers are not malicious foul beings, and lock picks are not the tools of the devil.
While I sincerely understand the criticisms against lock picking and the fear that accompanies it, there truly isn't any data or logic to support it.
Lock picking can simply be a puzzle to be solved by some and a form of mediation for others. It, like many other hobbies and passions, is something different for everyone.
Lock picking is now more than ever a community-driven hobby, with hundreds of YouTube channels, local lock picking clubs, and even cool Facebook Groups, all sharing their experiences, techniques, and trading locks for that fresh new challenge.
If you are a lock picker reading this, be sure to share this article with anyone who questions your hobby and help them understand that lock picking is more than simply bypassing security.