PINE BELT (WDAM) - There were an estimated 1,515,096 burglaries at homes across the country last year. According to the FBI, 23,354 of those were in Mississippi.
According to those 2016 crime statistics from the FBI, that is a decrease of 4.6 percent when compared with 2015 data. But, that doesn't mean the impact is any different on a single family when or where a burglar strikes.
WDAM 7 sat down with Ricky Strickland, a Jones County man who we are calling a "reformed burglar." Strickland served two sentences behind bars for a number of things, including drug charges. Stickland hasn't been involved in criminal activity for about six years, but said during the criminal activity in his life, he burglarized "a bunch" of homes.
"Support a habit, most of all. It was a means of living, just like a job," Strickland said.
Of the reported 23,354 burglaries to the FBI in Mississippi in 2016, here is where those crimes were in the Pine Belt:
- Jones County: 363
- Lamar County: 270
- Hattiesburg: 374
- Laurel: 248
- Petal: 43
"The easiest thing to do man, is to get into a neighborhood, not a rural area," Strickland said. "Normally, I would not worry about somebody seeing me because they're not going to call the law. They're not going to say there was a strange car at this house or that house until after the fact."
According to the FBI, victims of burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.6 billion in property losses in 2016. The average dollar loss per reported burglary was $2,361.
"Don't think just because you've got a door knob without a dead bolt that it's going to stop somebody if it's locked," Strickland said. "It's pretty easy to get in a home, even if everything is locked up."
The Jones County Sheriff's Department reports 204 burglaries in the area so far this year. Captain Tonya Madison, Chief Investigator with the department, said the most active time for burglaries is 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during the week, when most people are at work or out of their home.
"Usually, it's just because you are riding around and see something you want, so you get out," Strickland said. "Just normal clothes."
Here are more questions and answers with WDAM 7's Melissa Egan and 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 if someone was home?
"Then you just spoke to them. 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."
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 ten, 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. It's proved to be right, because that's a window that's frequently used."
Do blinds help block the view of a burglar?
"No that's not the case, you need to cover your windows. If you open a window, you need to close it once you're done. 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."
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 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."
What if you saw cameras around the home?
"That right there is a no go, that is a no go. Unless you wanted to go in like a bank robber and mask up, but that's a big risk."
What was the first thing you went for once inside a home?
"The first that I would look for is a gun safe, a gun cabinet. 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."
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 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."
How fast can a burglary happen?
"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, it doesn't take very long at all."
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 check it out. The easiest thing to do is get out and look, find yourself at home in someone else's neighborhood."
According to Captain Madison, the best defense is installing cameras on your property.
"We recommend everyone to put up a camera. A deer camera, a game camera, and make sure they are functioning," Madison said. "You say you have game cameras but they don't work. That's not going to help our case, or help us solve our case."
Captain Madison said during the holidays, there is an increase in burglaries. One of the biggest things for people to be aware of is the burglary may not just be in the neighborhood, but can start at a local business, with a criminal watching you make a purchase or give information. Strickland agreed.
"It's very easy to set outside Walmart and watch somebody that comes out with $2,000 worth of stuff, follow them home and scope out the house," Strickland said.
Strickland said he had a "come to Jesus" moment and has been clean for six years now. He is a member of Dying to Live Ministries in Laurel, where he spends time speaking to local schools and the community about how choices can impact your life.
When you look back now, what do you think?
"It's amazing, the things that I've seen and the things that I've done in my life, it's absolutely amazing that I'm not dead. 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."