Lock-crunching break-ins prompt call for ban on sales of plumbing tools to minors

Lock-crunching break-ins prompt call for ban on sales of plumbing tools to minors

Queensland retiree Barry Comiskey had never heard the term “lockpicking” until his doorknob was crumpled like an empty tissue box.

Core items:

  • Lockpicking cases have prompted a Cairns locksmith to call for a ban on the sale of certain tools to unaccompanied minors
  • Houses with unsafe door handles are attacked by thieves
  • Townsville Bunnings has started locking away some tools

Mr Comiskey is usually meticulous about hiding his car keys when he goes to bed at his Cairns flat.

But this time he forgot, and in the middle of the night thieves used a brute force technique that was once a “trade secret” for locksmiths.

Once they opened the door, the intruders tracked down Mr. Comiskey’s keys and drove away in his car.

Queensland Police Service (QPS) data shows a 21 per cent increase in reported illegal entry offenses over the year to February 2023 compared to the previous 12 months.

This was even more pronounced in the Far North Police District, where there was a 48 percent increase over the same period.

More than 19,000 cars were stolen across the state last year, with December recording its worst monthly tally ever.

In Cairns alone, with 1,299 vehicles stolen in 2022, there was a 65 percent increase in car thefts compared to the previous year.

Cairns locksmith Troy Cummings with two doorknobs that have been ‘nibbled’ by thieves. (ABC Far North: Chris Calcino)

‘It’s Out There’

Cairns locksmith Troy Cummings said he was dealing with dozens of squeaking locks every week as residents found their doorknobs mangled and their cars missing.

“It was an old well-known trade secret … if you can’t pick the lock, an easy way to get in,” he said.

“It was probably June 2019 when I heard about cases in Townsville.

“Usually what happens in Townsville goes to Cairns and what happens in Cairns goes to Townsville.

“We went from five cases a week to eight to 16 cases a day… and it’s still happening.

“Who knows how they figured it out…but it’s out there.”

A damaged door.  His lock was torn out. The damage caused by a recent home invasion in Cairns. (delivered)

Mr Cummings wants hardware stores to refuse to sell certain tools to unaccompanied young people.

“That’s what we have to do to try and protect the people in our community,” he said.

QPS Far Northern District Detective Inspector Mick Searle confirmed forced entry into Queensland is on the rise.

“When a specific risk is identified [by a business]additional treatment options should be introduced to reduce the chances for theft,” he said.

“Some stores may choose to secure expensive or highly desirable tools and equipment.”

A door damaged by a crowbar. Troy Cummings says thieves also regularly use crowbars to force open doors.Included: St. Matthias)

Bunnings puts down the tools

Some stores are already taking preventive measures.

A Bunnings Warehouse spokesman told ABC that individual stores could work on their own product access processes in the interest of keeping employees, customers and the community safe.

At the hardware giant’s Townsville store, some tools are safely stored behind the counter and can only be accessed once a customer has paid for them.

For locksmiths in other parts of the state, the problem of lockpicking is nothing new.

Caboolture locksmith Ashley Martin said he’s installed deadbolts after lockpicking break-ins throughout his 25-year career.

Gold Coast locksmith Michael Manning said that lockpicking has come in and out of style over time and incarceration.

“It’s definitely one of those things that we get spikes on over the years,” he said.

Bundaberg locksmith Richard Redgard recalls seeing damage from lock picking back in 2008.

“Lock crunching has been around for a while,” he said.

A man with short dark hair wearing a dark suit stands and speaks in Parliament. Barron River MP Craig Crawford says lockpicking thieves drew their attention to a neighbor’s house because its door had no knob.AAP: Dan Peled)

Ban not the key: Locksmith MP

The problem has not escaped the attention of politicians.

Barron River MP Craig Crawford worked as a locksmith in Victoria for about a decade before entering politics.

A pair of round doorknobs sitting on a table.  Both are damaged. Crushed door hardware has become a familiar sight as Queensland thieves attack homes with sets of round knobs.ABC Far North: Chris Calcino)

He said at the time lockpicking was well known in the industry but rarely seen in the suburbs.

“A few months ago I caught people with a security camera trying to break into my house,” Mr Crawford said.

“I haven’t [a knob set] at my house…they went to my neighbors house and actually gnashed at their lock.”

Mr Crawford said he didn’t think a legal ban on the sale of certain tools to unaccompanied minors was necessary, but it made sense to encourage retailers to take safety measures.

“I think it’s worth having a conversation and I will do that myself with the police,” he said.

“I think it has to be initiated by them what role hardware stores play in these devices.”

An adult's perspective view looking down at a doorknob. Mr. Comiskey now has no choice but to take the bus.(delivered)

“It’s a terrible impact”

Mr Comiskey is still waiting to get back behind the wheel after police recovered his stolen car.

The pensioner now takes buses to appointments in the city.

“It’s a terrible impact,” said Mr. Comiskey.

“I think we all have our downsides in life and this is just another one for me.”

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