Letter Re: Real World Observations on Fighting Crime and Criminals

Hello Sir!
While visiting your site this morning, I read a letter by someone talking about residential break-ins. While I don’t wish to contradict anything stated in the letter, there are a few points that should be made.

15 years ago, I made the decision to train as a Locksmith. I have my own locksmith business is in it’s 10th year and going strong. I’ve worked in banks, with police and even the DEA. I’ve been at the scene of scores of break-ins, assessing the damage as well as repairing and fortifying the sites.

This brings me to the point; Glass breakage is a very high pitched and distinctive sound. The moment a neighbor hears glass breaking outside their home, the police are called in to check it out. This is not what a would-be thief wants. The second reason that glass is not generally broken is that many of the windows now are double paned. These are not as easy to break as one might think. If broken, which is not always successful, the sound generated by the force needed will alert anyone in the surrounding area. Falling glass from the window can continue to make noise which allows any person investigating the noise to home in on it’s origin. Lastly, the intruder can be severely cut climbing over a shard of glass. None of the above are desirable to a thief. (Though for more desperate times, more desperate measures would be needed.)

This as opposed to the dead thump of a door being kicked in, and closed behind the intruder. Most folks pay no attention to such noises (which is why, when asked by the police if they heard “shots”, most people will deny it, as when muffled either by intention or the enclosed dwelling itself, a shot sounds more like a bump or thump. Or they will say that they heard “something” but not be able to describe what it was). Even the most curious neighbor will see nothing out of ordinary upon investigation of a thump outside their home.

More important is the method to increasing the security of the doors of the home. Though most people worry about their locks being picked…..and it can happen (therefore I recommend Medeco High Security locks), the vast majority of criminals prefer not to remain out in the open for any measurable time. Since picking can vary immensely from lock to lock (including the laughable Internet scare “lock-bumping” method – sorry folks, it only works like that consistently in the movies), the preferred method unlawful entry is to cross into forced entry and put a boot to the section of the door that is weakest. That would be a spot as close to the knob/deadbolt as they can get.

As the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as the weakest link. Well, in this particular chain, that would be the stud into which the bolt bore and latch bore are made. The reason is, that residential exterior doors open in; toward the inside of the house. A well placed boot only has to split the 3/4″ – 1″ of wood on the far side of the hole bored into the stud into which the deadbolt protrudes in the thrown position.

Though it was mentioned in the letter posted on your site that longer screws are needed for the latch plate, they will provide no measurable added security with regard to a person kicking in the door. Nor will driving a steel conduit into the hole aid in the attempt to “beef it up”, as I’ve seen posted on another blog. Neither of these is going to solve the original problem of the lack of wood behind the holes bored in the jamb to accommodate the latch and bolt when engaged.

An expedient way to shore up this weak spot is to remove the molding on the interior side of the jamb and install a strip of metal 24″ long (approximately), 1.5″ wide and 1/16″ thick. Drill 4-6 holes along the strip alternating from side to side and use 4″ lag bolts (flat head) to secure it in place with the center point directly behind the center point between the latch and the deadbolt, reinforcing the formerly vulnerable stud. The molding is then replaced and nobody but the homeowner knows it’s there. (This method, of course, will do nothing to stop a door “spreader” which police agencies use for entry when investigating…..but that’s another story.)

The next weak point will be the door itself, from the holes for the hardware to the closest edge. This is where a wooden door will split under force. As the door is forced, the bolt and latch are held in place in the jamb. This causes a twisting motion as pressure is put on the shear point (where the door meets the jamb) and like the formerly weak jamb, the door splits off 6″ – 12″ on either side of the nearest hole.

Though brass “wrap around reinforcers” are sold, they offer marginal, at best, additional security. This is a place where thicker is better…..and more surface area is a plus. My recommendation is, of course, a steel door. Not only do they help seal out external temperatures (less prone to warping), they offer more security against forced entry. The next best is steel plates (decorative or at least paint-able) 6″ wide, 1/8″ thick and 24″ long, with 8 screws spaced equidistantly along their edges (both sides) 1/2″ in from the edge. Your standard back-set for a knob or deadbolt is 2 3/8 inches residential, but 2 3/4 (the commercial standard) is gaining popularity. Either way, this puts the knob and deadbolt in the center of the plates. For those few who have the old style 5″ back-set, they’re just going to have to figure out an esthetically pleasing solution.

Next is the hardware. Locks need to be as solid as you can afford. You generally get what you pay for. Go for the heaviest duty. We’re not talking about a purchase from the local hardware giant either. Just because the package says “heavy duty” or “high security” doesn’t mean a thing. Go to a locksmith or locksmith supply company. If you can find excellent quality on the Internet, that’s great. Just don’t worry too much about cost as the difference of price over the life of the lock is minimal.

This is especially important with regard to hinges. The top hinge holds the brunt of the weight. When the door is closed, you can check the sag of the door by how wide the gap is on the hinged side between the door and the jamb. The wider the gap, the more worn your hinge. Eventually, this will cause difficulty in latching/bolting the door, not to mention the more give a hinge has, the more strain on the screws under pressure. On an open door, rub marks near the top of the edge indicate worn hinges. A badly worn set of hinges will cause the door to “bump” the door jamb before closing. A quick fix when there is no alternative is to swap the top and bottom hinges.

Ultimately, extreme heavy duty hinges should be installed. This is a place where longer screws make a difference (which is probably where folks get the idea for longer screws on the latch plate). Since there are no holes bored into the hinged side of the jamb, and there are 3 sets of 4 screws, spread over the length of the jamb, holding the hinge to the jamb, any shear pressure is also spread throughout the entire stud, minimizing the force at any particular point. The force necessary to overcome this is substantial. Other means of entry are definitely preferable; which is the point in the average residential setting, as they are notoriously difficult to fortify with the standard construction, windows

Basic knowledge to be sure, but it’s (surprisingly) not common knowledge. I thought it might be of interest to the readers of your blog. If you think it relevant (not to be presumptuous) to post, I’d rather be anonymous – Sincerely, – Anonymous