KOLD INVESTIGATES: Mind of a criminal

KOLD INVESTIGATES: Mind of a criminal

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A home break-in is a constant threat, no matter where you live.

Ricky Strickland is a convicted criminal and spent time behind bars. He said he started breaking into homes at 15 years old.

"Support a habit, most of all," he said. "It was a means of living, just like a job."

The FBI reports there were 37,736 burglaries in Arizona in 2016. Of those, 4,138 were in Tucson, 249 in Sierra Vista, and 80 in Nogales. To see crime statistics for your city, click HERE.

"The easiest thing to do man, is to get into a neighborhood, not a rural area," Strickland said.

Tucson police said most burglaries happen during the day and Ricky confirmed that's true.

"Usually, it's just because you are riding around and see something you want, so you get out," he said.

Crime statistics from the Pima County Sheriff's Department show the most active time is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., a time when most people are at work or out of the house.

So, what happens when someone is home?

"Then you just speak to them," Strickland said. "'Hey, how you doing? Is so-and-so here?'  Or, 'Hey, I'm down the road, broke down.'  Play it off like you wasn't there to do anything."

Even enjoying the slightly cooler weather can put you at risk.

"Open windows are always a telltale sign," Strickland said.  "You have cracks in windows. Matter of fact, you can walk up to just about any blind set and where the string goes, there's holes. If you look long enough through those holes, you can see everything in a home. Everything."

Strickland said those security system signs out front won't really do much, but cameras will.

"That right there is a no-go. That is a no-go," he said

Officer Chris Hawkins with the Tucson Police Department said cameras help to not just deter crime but also catch criminals.

"They can catch video at night in high resolution that we can use to help identify suspects involved in those," Hawkins said. "Any time we can have that, that's awesome for our investigators to be able to use that evidence to be able to identify and then prosecute."

Once inside, Strickland knows where he's going first.

"The first thing that I would look for is a gun safe, a gun cabinet," he said. "First place that I would look would be in the closets if I were trying to find anything, the places where people feel like they can hide stuff - under the beds."

Strickland said a burglary can happen in record time.

"It don't take very long for a man to go in with his mind set. He's going in to get something," he said.

Strickland said he has been clean for six years and spends most of his time talking to the community about his experiences.

"You know, things that I've seen and the things that I've done in my life, it's absolutely amazing that I'm not dead," he said. "That one of those nights breaking into a home somebody didn't shoot and kill me or the person that I was selling drugs to their children, that somebody didn't kill me.  I'm just amazed I'm still alive and I thank God for it."

Here are more questions and answers with Strickland:

Would you plan to burglarize a home? Or would it be random?

"It depended on what type of home it was. If you know that there is a good lick there, guns inside, wealthy people with jewelry or something, you watch it for a couple of days because you don't want to mess up. At nighttime, it would be at random. I would get out and just walk a neighborhood, slow, quietly, go into cars, garages, go into the backyard if you couldn't see anything, see if there is something valuable to take."

What is the easiest thing to look for before breaking into a home?

"Open windows. That's one thing you look for because nine times out of 10, that's a window that's open on a regular. Even if they close it at night and folks will let down their window without locking it."

What if there were pets inside the home?

"The barking of a dog is nothing unusual at a home. Animals come out of the woods. Anything can cause a dog to bark. So until you see some lights come on or you see some movement in the house, you don't have anything to worry about (it) because the dog you'll get used to very quick."

What if you saw a security system sign in the front yard?

"Sometimes it's worth a try. To people who want something out of that home, it's worth a try to see if the alarm will go off. People will leave and not set it. And that's the way it is, people get comfortable. If it was something that I thought would be worth something, an alarm would not stop me if it went off."

What if there were porch lights around the home?

"You always knew if there was a porch light on, it was bed time. If you can be quiet enough, you can do just about anything. You walk around your home at night without waking anybody up."

Would you bring anything inside the home to put stolen items in?

"Just snatch a sheet off the bed or something. Pile it up and walk out with it like the Smurfs did."

Do people really hide things in the back of a freezer?

"Yeah, it's true. But a lot of time you know, unless you've got a long time and absolutely know it's there, you don't search for those little hiding spots because there is so much on the front line you can get. You can just get and gone and make your little bit of money."

What is your biggest piece of advice to homeowners?

"Cover up your windows. Be smart. If you see somebody in your neighborhood that you don't know, call somebody and have them checked out. The easiest thing to do is get out and look, find yourself at home in someone else's neighborhood."

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