Lock-snapping is becoming burglars' 'method of choice' in the Black Country
“It is quick, easy and quiet,” – It sounds like an advert promoting the local library but actually the truth is far more sinister.
Unfortunately that is West Midlands Police’s description for ‘lock-snapping’ which has emerged as a prominent form of burglary in the Black Country this year.
Armed with nothing more than a pair of pliers and a screwdriver intruders can now force their way into people’s homes in less than a minute using this very technique.
And what has the force ‘worried’ is that unlike other crude methods of entry, this does not involve clumsy smashing of glass or bashing down doors.
It can be carried out almost completely silently. As a result brazen thieves are targeting more homes at night – while people are still in bed.
Detective Sergeant Leighton Shingles, part of the force’s High Harm team, said: “It has definitely become a method of entry we are seeing more often. Ever since January we are noticing it regularly. It is something they are able to do quietly which means a lot of offences are being done overnight.
“The worrying thing is that they are being committed while people are in the house. It takes a matter of minutes. They can get in much quicker but we believe on occasion they are taking a little bit longer in order to do it quietly.”
So what exactly is lock-snapping? The first bit of bad news is that the ideal targets are Euro profile cylinder locks, which are fitted to several million uPVC doors throughout the country.
It works by removing the plastic covering and gripping the protruding lock mechanism – where you put the key – with some sort of tool. A set of pliers will do but career burglars may opt for an aptly named ‘snapper bar’ which can be picked up from most locksmith merchants for around £50 or less.
See how lock-snapping works
At the risk of this becoming a ‘how to’ guide, aspiring burglars will have to figure the final part out themselves. However, it would seem scores of desperate criminals have already cottoned on in the Black Country with West Midlands Police now declaring lock-snapping is the ‘method of choice’ for forcing entry into homes.
The force has issued multiple warnings to residents this year, particularly via its fledging WMNow alert service, that this is the way homes are now being broken in to in 2017.
In March houses on Hodges Drive and Darby’s Hill Road in Tividale were targeted, while properties in Brickhouse Lane and Woolpack Close in the West Bromwich area were also raided.
More recently Milking Bank in Dudley and parts of Halesowen have seen similar incidents.
While Walsall residents have been hit by several ‘lock-snap’ break-ins in the last two months with houses in Chestnut Close in Streetly, The Berkshire in Turnberry, and Tetley Avenue, just north of Walsall Arboretum, all proving vulnerable.
On the back of the latter incident, Kevin Pitt - police, engagement and consultation officer in Walsall - said: “Lock-snapping is becoming burglars’ entry method of choice as it is quick, easy and quiet.”
As you would expect laptop computers, jewellery and cash have been the obvious targets.
But car keys have become the ultimate prize with the rear patio doors to a home now seen as a gateway to driving off in a £30,000-plus high performance vehicle.
“I can confidently say that lock-snapping burglaries are becoming the easy way to steal a vehicle from someone’s drive,” added Det Sgt Shingles.
“Expensive vehicles have become the reward for successfully breaking into a house.“ While it has emerged as a particular threat to Black Country homes this year, the method has been around for more than five years. As such, counter measures have since been developed.
There are several ‘anti-snap’ locks on the market which can be picked up for less than £20. Of course it will cost a locksmith to install it, but that is a small price to pay if it means sentimental jewellery is not stolen and the car stays firmly on the drive. A cheaper option for patio doors comes in the form of a Patlock, which fits around the door handles. And even cheaper still are ‘sash jammers’ which prevent windows and doors from opening.
They are available for less than £10 each and recommended by police. Det Sgt Shingles added: “There are a number of things you can do. But almost all lock-snap burglaries happen at the rear of the property.
"So we would urge people to check things like the security of their side gates, or if they have security lights and CCTV make sure they are working.
“People should think if they can easily access the back of their home then someone else can.”
West Midlands Police has had to deal with a minimum of 2,000 burglaries a month across the region since last September.
Det Sgt Shingles said: “Burglary is one of the most personal crimes. It compromises people’s privacy and with the loss of expensive or sentimental items, as well as the cost of the damage caused, it can be absolutely traumatising.”
More information on home security is available at www.securedbydesign.com which is the official police flagship scheme.