James Worthey does not aspire to be the next Houdini. But law enforcement officials might want to catch his act the next time they happen to be visiting the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md.
Worthey, an engineer in NIST's Office of Law Enforcement Standards, shows how easy it is to pick a conventional handcuff with an ordinary paper clip. The problem is well known to police officers--and to many prisoners. A few years ago, sheriff's officials in California came to the National Institute of Justice, OLES's sponsor, asking for help in designing more secure handcuffs.
Worthey developed a computerized instrument based on a force-torque transducer, a device that can measure small forces, such as those required to lock and unlock a handcuff. It also will be used to measure the larger torque necessary to break the handcuff. The instrument can display data graphically and save them in a computer.
It is now on loan to Touchstone Research Laboratory, Inc., in Triadelphia, W.Va. Under contract with NIST, Touchstone will measure and analyze a variety of handcuffs and offer ideas for improved future designs.