The Yomiuri Shimbun
April 8, 2008
Burglaries and thefts using lock-picking techniques have been virtually
stamped out--down to just over 700 cases nationwide last year from a
peak of nearly 30,000 in 2000.
The method has become nonviable for theft rings--often foreign--which
use special tools to prize open locks to burgle empty homes, since a
lock-picking prevention law took effect in 2003 and the use of effective
security locks became widespread after the number of such thefts began
to soar in 1999.
Some experts, however, believe thieves are now using another method that
involves prizing windows open, ensuring that the National Police Agency
has to keep its guard up.
Lock-picking was originally a method used by specialist companies to
open locks when residents lost keys, but theft rings from China and
other countries began to adopt such methods. A number of lock cylinders
and other items used for lock-picking practice have been found at gang
There were 29,211 reported cases of lock-picking thefts nationally in
2000, with about 11,000 such crimes committed in the Tokyo metropolitan
area--more than one-third of the national total. The number of cases
began to fall after that, with the national figure dropping to 708 last
year--about one-fortieth of the peak annual total.
Many apartments were burgled during the peak lock-picking years, but now
such crimes are sporadic--with only 71 committed in the Tokyo
metropolitan area last year.
This dramatic drop is seen as a result of the government working closely
with the private sector
When a lock-picking prevention law took effect in September 2003, it
became possible to arrest people for simply possessing specialist tools
or screwdrivers without reasonable grounds. The new law led to the
arrest of many gang members that the police had been searching for in
Lock-picking crimes also dropped by between 30 percent and 50 percent
the year after the law came into force and the number of cases continued
to drop at a similar rate in subsequent years.
Keymakers also have developed better locks that are more difficult to
pick. The majority of new apartments and houses built in recent years
have been fitted with such locks, according to the Japan Lock
The Metropolitan Police Department established a dedicated crime squad
to deal with these foreign theft rings in the capital, which had been
struck particularly hard by lock-picking crimes. The MPD also got riot
police officers on board and began carrying out thorough questionings of
suspicious-looking foreigners hanging out around train stations and in
residential areas, which led to the arrest of many foreigners living
illegally in Japan.
"Picking locks became a crime that didn't pay," a senior MPD officer
This clampdown also helped cut the total number of burglaries nationwide
in half from the 2002 figure of about 340,000 to about 170,000 last
In January, the MPD arrested members of gangs from Colombia. They and
other gangs used a method of prizing open windows of private homes with
Japanese thieves have long broken into homes in this way, and it is
possible that Japanese may be instructing these foreign theft rings in
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