What is a Forensic Locksmith?

Nov. 15, 2004
The job of a forensic locksmith is to determine by inspection how an action occurred.

A forensic locksmith is someone who can testify in court as an expert on scientifically verifiable information regarding locks and keys.

What is a forensic locksmith? Let us first define to two words individually. According to my unabridged dictionary, a locksmith is a person who works on making or repairing locks and keys. Forensic is defined as: belonging in courts or legal proceedings, fitted for legal or public argumentations. Combining the words with interpretation, a forensic locksmith is someone who can testify in court as an expert on scientifically verifiable information regarding locks and keys. Forensic locksmiths usually provide information that can be used by investigators to assist in solving a crime. The task of a forensic locksmith is to determine how an action occurred, such as a vehicle being moved without the owner's authorization, or something being removed from a closed and locked office, business or home. A business, insurance company, attorney, government agency, etc. can hire a forensic locksmith.

A forensic locksmith can provide services for the prosecution or the defense. The job of a forensic locksmith is not to determine who. The job of a forensic locksmith is to determine by inspection how an action occurred. The action may have occurred because of unauthorized activity, authorized activity, manufacturer's problems, installer's problems, etc.

A locksmith who provides forensic services must have considerable expertise and must be able to clearly convey this expertise while testifying in a courtroom. The locksmith must know the "ins and outs"of how a particular lock and locking mechanism operates. He or she needs to know the weaknesses of the lock and locking mechanism and how to identify it/them. In addition, the locksmith must know the equipment that can be used for surreptitious operation. The forensic locksmith must know the "telltale"signs of unauthorized operation and what is required to identify them. The forensic locksmith must take the time to determine all of the possible alternatives.

Forensic locksmithing can be as general as mechanical locks and locking mechanisms or it can be as specific as an individual whose expertise is master keying systems. There is no one set area for a forensic locksmith to have expertise.

A forensic locksmith may examine a crime scene/vehicle and search for evidence that explains how something happened. Or material may be sent to a forensic locksmith. For example, if an office has been burglarized and a safe opened, a forensic locksmith will investigate how access could have been gained not only into the building and office, but also into the safe. The forensic locksmith will have expertise in door hardware as well as safe locks.

It is extremely important to know exactly what you are being asked to do. Always verify both the scope of your work and the specifics, such as address, telephone number or vehicle information.

For locksmiths who are considering becoming involved in forensic lock work, consider obtaining information from or joining the International Association of Investigative Locksmiths (IAIL). The IAIL has a convention once a year, usually in early summer where they provide education for the beginner to the advanced forensic locksmith. For more information on the International Association of Forensic Locksmiths, write to 1507 Whitmarsh Circle, Severn, Maryland 21144, or visit the website www.iail.org.

IAIL Certification Program

The International Association of Investigative Locksmiths, Inc. has developed a Certification Program which will lead to the designation of CFL (Certified Forensic Locksmith). This designation will be awarded upon completion of certain relevant classes and upon satisfactory completion of a written proficiency examination in the field of Investigative Locksmithing.

Applicants must have been a member of I.A.I.L. for a period of at least one year prior to applying to take this examination. The examination will take three hours to complete and consists of a written examination of 125 questions on forensic locksmithing and the Standards for a Forensic Locksmith, and an oral examination of 1.5 hours on the applicant's ability to testify in court, their ability to be classified as an expert in this field, etc.

A point system has been established to qualify an applicant to sit for this examination. A total of 75 points shall be required to apply to sit for the examination. Points will be awarded for completion of the following classes, offered by both the IAIL and ALOA:

  • Impressioning
  • Picking
  • Simplex Manipulation
  • Professional By-Pass Techniques
  • Covert CCTV
  • Investigative Locksmithing I, II, & III *
  • Forensic Locksmithing
  • Safe Servicing & Safe Manipulation
  • Safe Opening 
  • Automotive Specialties (Columns & Locks)
  • Auto Theft/Arson classes *

* Required classes to sit for examination. These classes must have been completed prior to applying to sit for the examination.

A detailed listing of points assessed and an application is available upon request from IAIL, 1507 Whitmarsh Cir., Severn, MD 21144. The Standards for a Certified Forensic Locksmith as adopted by the IAIL are available for a $2 fee.