The Waco Police Department is on track to close out 2018 with only two criminal homicides, the lowest number in 33 years of record-keeping.
The new low continues a trend of decreasing homicides over the last couple of decades, in a city that once averaged almost two murders a month. The trend also tracks with a general reduction in overall crime rates locally and nationally.
The two criminal homicides this year do not include two other homicides that were classified as justified: one officer-involved shooting and one self-defense case.
“Certainly these numbers have been lower than in years past, and we’d like to see that trend continue with all crimes, not just with murders,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said. “Murder is a crime that is not a predictable offense that we can do a whole lot a about. We can certainly solve them and put a lot of investigation into them, but preventing murders is extremely difficult.”
One of the unlawful homicide cases involved the shooting death of Justin Wayne Bibles in a parking lot near Richland Mall. A suspect was charged with his murder, but a grand jury this month declined to indict him.
The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office investigated no new murders in the county this year.
By contrast, Waco had peaks in both 1989 and 1993 of 29 cases of homicide and non-negligent manslaughter, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report system. Between 1987 and 1996, Waco saw an average of almost 22 such cases per year.
McLennan County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Steve January recalls a more violent period in Waco’s history. Now commander of the county’s Criminal Investigation Division, he spent 24 years in the Waco Police Department and was a detective from 1995 to 2012.
“I was in the homicide unit for 17 years with Waco and I had 41 primary (homicide) cases assigned just to me,” January said. “That is just over two a year, but we also had six other detectives, so having 41 cases in 17 years, I think that puts it into perspective.”
Swanton said murders are a difficult crime to police against because many killings are unpredictable and can originate out of another primary offense, such as robbery, home invasions and drug crimes. He said local police are taking proactive measures to combat other crimes and provide fast responses to crime scenes to lessen violence in Waco.
Before this year, the previous lows for homicides and non-negligent manslaughter were in 2010 and 2016, which each had five cases, according to the FBI system. Five cases were also reported in 2017, but that figure excludes a case that was considered a murder-suicide.
That is not to say police work has gotten less busy, Swanton said.
“Waco is obviously a busy city to police in, and it is very seldom that our patrol officers are not running back-to-back calls,” Swanton said. “It has to be something pretty extreme for us not to have those kinds of days or nights anymore.”
Last year, Waco police investigated six homicides, counting the murder-suicide, along with one justified homicide.
In 2016, officers worked five homicide investigations, including two deaths that have been ruled “justified homicides.” The city had 12 cases in 2015, but that included the nine bikers killed in the Twin Peaks shootout.
“As a department, we feel like we are doing some good things,” Swanton said, pointing to training in dealing with active shooters as well as everyday interactions with the public. “We put a big emphasis on having a well-trained police force.”
In Waco’s first homicide this year, police investigated the death of Taivunn Demontre Briscoe, 20, who was found dead in a home in the 2700 block of Herring Avenue on March 19. Police reported Briscoe was likely kidnapped from his home the night before he was found dead.
Court documents filed in connection to Briscoe’s death state he was likely taken from his home after at least one suspect came to his house under the guise of having car trouble. Briscoe was then held at gunpoint and taken to a home in the 500 block of Calumet Avenue.
Police stated Briscoe was later taken back to his home on Herring Avenue after spending some time at the Calumet Avenue home. A search warrant states Briscoe was bound with duct tape and zip ties and held in a bedroom for several hours.
The autopsy revealed Briscoe died as a result of asphyxiation and smothering. A plastic bag was placed over Briscoe’s head, and his death included “homicidal violence,” the autopsy states.
No arrests have been made in the case, Swanton said. The investigation remains ongoing.
Killed in the only officer-involved shooting this year, Kenneth Warren Resendez, 34, of Waco, was shot and killed when he was threatening family members in a home in the 3800 block of Speight Avenue on April 13. Police reported Resendez was was hitting and breaking things in the house and threatening family members with a knife before police arrived.
In the home, Fabian Klecka, a patrol officer who started working for the city in September 2000, found Resendez holding family members captive. Klecka and a second officer commanded Resendez to drop the knife, but he did not comply with officers’ requests, officials said.
Klecka felt threatened and fatally shot Resendez, police said. A McLennan County grand jury cleared Klecka in the shooting and ruled the homicide a justified homicide in late April.
On May 1, Justin Wayne Bibles, 32, of Waco, was shot outside Red Lobster, 5925 W. Waco Drive, after a two-vehicle crash. Police stated witnesses reported a passenger of a white pickup truck got out of his car following the crash and shot Bibles, the driver of a red Hyundai, in the head, causing him to crash into a parked car at the restaurant.
Bibles was taken to Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center, where he died.
Police searched for the passenger of the truck who was believed to have shot Bibles. Waco police, U.S. Marshals Task Force members and the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office Fugitive Apprehension Team arrested Kenneth James Smith, then 25, of Bosqueville, after finding his truck in Coryell County about a week later.
Smith later posted bond and was released from custody. A McLennan County grand jury decided not to pursue an indictment for the murder charge earlier this month.
Police also investigated a shooting reported in the 3400 block of Pewitt Drive, near Robinson, on May 17, where Raymond Morris, 60, was shot multiple times in the torso, Swanton said. The suspected shooter, Steven Johnson, then 40, was detained by police.
Johnson reportedly told officers Morris had been taking illegal drugs “and had been on a binge since Mother’s Day.” Swanton said Morris died of his injuries the following day, but police determined Johnson was acting in self-defense at the time of the shooting.
According to year-to-date numbers provided by the Waco Police Department, officers have seen a 4 percent decrease in overall crime through the month of November. Violent crime has increased by about 3 percent, but nonviolent crimes have decreased by 6 percent in the same time period in comparison to last year.
“We have a bunch of men and women who care about his community and want to see it get better and want to see us improve,” Swanton said. “We all know tourism has played a huge part in Waco’s growth and we feel like that is a part of that as well.”
Swanton said officers are constantly interacting with guests to the city of Waco and local residents about concerns during neighborhood meetings or on the street daily. He said officers encourage the public to engage with officers and participate in the citizen’s police academy to understand the duties of local officers.
New this year for Waco police was the introduction of body-worn cameras in late August. One of the last local departments to start using body-worn cameras, Swanton said the introduction has gone smoothly with the 253-officer department.
“I can tell you that our officers are not different since we got body-worn cams, but I think officers are learning to appreciate them,” Swanton said. “It does give a first-hand view of our world and it gives people the opportunity to experience in a small way what we go through day-in and day-out.”
Editor’s note: Today the Tribune-Herald continues its countdown of 10 of the most memorable and significant stories we’ve covered in 2018.
Though Baylor University has replaced its administrative and athletics leadership in the wake of a tragic sexual assault scandal and made far-reaching improvements in its policies and practices surrounding sexual violence and student discipline in the past two years, one lawsuit the school faces continues to bring revelations.
Jim Dunnam, a local lawyer and a former state representative, joined forces with Houston attorney Chad Dunn in June 2016 and has not let up in his pursuit of justice for the 15 women he represents suing Baylor under Title IX. The month before, the school announced results of an independent investigation into its handling of sexual assault reports, fired football coach Art Briles and demoted President Ken Starr, who later resigned from his diminished role.
In a deposition taken in June, former athletics director Ian McCaw, who now holds the same role at Liberty University, accused Baylor regents of displaying racism and favoring a misleading report of the 2016 Pepper Hamilton investigation. He resigned because he did not want to participate in “some Enron cover-up scheme,” he said in the deposition.
The university denied McCaw’s claims, calling them “bizarre, blatantly false and nothing more than speculation and gossip of which he has no firsthand knowledge.”
In July, Baylor settled a separate Title IX lawsuit filed by a former volleyball player who alleged four to eight football players drugged and gang raped her in 2012.
Less than two weeks later, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman allowed Dolores Lozano, a former student who has alleged the university failed to respond when she accused a football player of physical abuse, may again pursue her claims.
Baylor, McCaw, Briles and the city of Waco are defendants in Lozano’s lawsuit, which Dunnam and Dunn are not involved in. In another legal matter separate from Dunnam and Dunn’s efforts, former football player Jeremy Faulk sued Baylor last month in state court, saying the school mishandled a Title IX case against him in 2016 and denied him educational rights. Baylor has consistently rebutted Faulk’s claims.
In the fall, the Tribune-Herald reported on IRS tax forms showing Baylor’s legal fees had skyrocketed as the university faced investigations and lawsuits related to the scandal.
It was then revealed that Baylor regent Phil Stewart told Dunnam in a deposition that the results of the Pepper Hamilton investigation were “orchestrated” and “staged” to punish Starr, McCaw and Briles. He said he offered his resignation in October 2016 but that the board did not accept it, fearing bad publicity.
Stewart, who remains a regent, also said Baylor “lost its soul” during that time.
Stewart’s comments showed internal disagreements among regents before, during and after the board made its decisions in May 2016.
After a 21-month review, the Big 12 Conference in October fined Baylor $2 million and announced it will withhold millions more in revenue distribution payments.
President Linda Livingstone said at the time she was pleased with the results because the probe verified the progress the school has made. The NCAA is conducting an investigation that started in 2016, and the Texas Rangers also launched an investigation in 2017.
Another bombshell produced by Dunnam’s lawsuit this year is the allegation that former board chairman Richard Willis, who is no longer a regent, made racist, lewd and anti-Semitic comments during a 2014 meeting in Mexico. Willis and local pastor Ramiro Peña, who was also a regent at the time, denied the claims.
Two businessmen, Greg Klepper and Alejandro Urdaneta, signed affidavits claiming Willis made the comments.
Lawyers for all parties, including Baylor, have negotiated, with some trouble, over a tape that may have captured Willis’ comments. It has not been released publicly, but Klepper agreed to hand it over for the lawsuit.
Head football coach Matt Rhule said he discussed the allegations with some of his players.
“They were sort of, ‘Coach, we’ve been through this for so long we’re numb to it,’” Rhule said at the time. “For me, that’s sad but it’s real, and they’ll leave here more prepared for life.”
There are no indications Baylor will settle the lawsuits filed by Dunnam and Dunn.
Big-ticket purchases pushed the Greater Waco Economic Index into record territory last month, with home and vehicle sales also climbing into record territory, according to a report by Amarillo-based economist Karr Ingham.
A total of 236 single-family homes changed hands, “easily a November monthly record and up by about 6 percent compared to November of 2017,” which boasted the previous high, Ingham reported. He prepares a monthly snapshot of economic indicators for the First National Bank of Central Texas and the Tribune-Herald.
The year-to-date total of 2,717 homes sold through November is running almost 8 percent ahead of last year’s count after 11 months.
Paula Mohan, a nine-year agent with Kelly Realtors, said 2018 has been great, as Ingham’s numbers would indicate, but she has noticed a slight softening.
“Houses are staying on the market a little longer,” Mohan said. “I’m seeing more price reductions, and some initial prices aren’t as high as they were.”
Indeed, Ingham’s reporting shows the average price for a home sold in November was $194,822, down 2.3 percent from the $199,439 norm a year earlier. Still, for the year through November, the average hovered around $202,551, 3.5 percent more than the 11-month average last year.
Leah Cox, president of Kelly Realtors, said 2018 was a “quirky year” and that she is cautiously optimistic about 2019, though the Texas Legislature’s looming session and the Federal Reserve’s apparent willingness to continue raising interest rates give her pause. Cox, who earned her license in 2013 “but has never really not been in real estate,” said she remains impressed with the city of Waco’s commitment to preserve and improve infrastructure, an attitude that builders and homeowners find encouraging.
The Federal Reserve earlier this month raised a key interest rate 0.25 percent, its ninth hike since December 2015. The central bank has indicated it will consider at least two more hikes in 2019, down from the three it had previously announced.
Veteran real estate agent Camille Johnson said rates remain tame.
“I can remember getting in this business when rates were 16 to 18 percent, so they are still low to me,” Johnson said. “My mentor, Jim Stewart, said if rates average 10 percent or less, that’s great. And what have they been in recent years, 4, 5 or 6 percent? I don’t see the market being affected.”
She said several areas of Greater Waco remain hotbeds of home sales, including North Waco, the U.S. Highway 84 corridor and China Spring. She also said December and January typically are “dead” months for transactions, “but I sold two homes on Christmas Eve, a nice Christmas present.”
Waco issued 38 permits to build new homes in November, a 2.7 percent increase, while 511 permits had been dispensed through last month, a 14 percent rise from the 448 through November last year.
Calculations applied to employment, home and commercial construction, home sales, retail spending and lodging activity show the Greater Waco Economic Index surged to a record 130.7 in November, a fractional increase from the revised score of 130.1 in October, and well above the 126.7 in the same month a year earlier. The 3.2 percent year-over-year growth in the index is the highest since the 3.5 percent jump in February 2017.
“The Waco metropolitan area economy is closing in on seven years of expansion, and that milestone is set to be achieved in January 2019,” Ingham wrote in his report provided this week to the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, The First National Bank of Central Texas and the Tribune-Herald.
Other highlights of the index include the following:
NEW YORK — The #MeToo movement is empowering victims of sexual assault to speak up like never before, but what should be a watershed moment for holding assailants accountable has coincided with a troubling trend: Police departments in the U.S. are becoming less and less likely to successfully close rape investigations.
The so-called “clearance rate” for rape cases fell last year to its lowest point since at least the 1960s, according to FBI data provided to The Associated Press. That nadir may be driven, at least in part, by a greater willingness by police to correctly classify rape cases and leave them open even when there is little hope of solving them.
But experts say it also reflects the fact that not enough resources are being devoted to investigating sexual assault at a time when more victims are entrusting police with their harrowing experiences.
“This is the second-most serious crime in the FBI’s crime index,” said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia, “and it simply doesn’t get the necessary resources from police.”
Police successfully closed just 32 percent of rape investigations nationwide in 2017, according to the data, ranking it second only to robbery as the least-solved violent crime. That statistic is down from about 62 percent in 1964, despite advances such as DNA testing.
The FBI provided The AP with a dataset of rape statistics dating back to the early 1960s — a table that includes more complete data than the snapshot the bureau releases each fall.
The grim report card has prompted debate among criminal justice experts, with some attributing the falling clearance rate to an antiquated approach to investigations.
“You’d figure with all the new technology — and the fact that the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual assault know their attacker — the clearance rates would be a lot higher,” said Joseph Giacalone, a former New York City police sergeant who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“It’s almost as if forensics and DNA has let us down,” he said.
Experts agree that sexual assault is one of the most confounding crimes police confront. Many investigations lack corroborating witnesses and physical evidence. A significant chunk of complaints are reported months or years after the fact. Researchers believe only a third of rapes are reported at all.
Historically, some detectives also discouraged women from pursuing tough-to-prove charges against boyfriends, husbands or close acquaintances. The declining clearance rate could mean that investigators in some places are finally classifying rape investigations properly, said Kim Lonsway, research director at End Violence Against Women International.
Rather than hastily “clearing” certain tough-to-solve cases, she said, some police departments have begun “suspending” them, meaning they remain open indefinitely. That leaves open the possibility there could someday be an arrest.
“This may be an indicator of some positive things,” Lonsway said.
The FBI’s clearance numbers provide an incomplete picture of how often rapists are brought to justice. That’s because they also include “exceptional clearances,” where police close an investigation without charging anyone, for reasons beyond the department’s control. That could be because a victim stopped cooperating or the suspect died or is incarcerated in another state, among other reasons.
The figures do not specify the percentage of rape cases that are exceptionally cleared compared with those resulting in arrests, but state data can fill out the picture in some places.
In Detroit, for instance, police investigated 664 reported rapes last year but made just 44 arrests, according to Michigan data. Another 15 cases were closed for other reasons. That would give Detroit a clearance rate of 8.9 percent, even though only 6.6 percent of reported rapes resulted in an arrest.
Sam Gaspardo said that when she reported in 2011 that she had been sexually assaulted, police in Woodbury, Minnesota, lacked a sense of urgency.
Investigators in the St. Paul suburb expressed frustration that she delayed reporting the attack for more than a year and couldn’t recall the precise date. One time, when she phoned to follow up her case, she was put on hold indefinitely.
“To me, it felt like it was invalidated,” Gaspardo said. “I was just completely dismissed.”
Woodbury Police Cmdr. Steve Wills acknowledged Gaspardo’s complaint fell through the cracks and was not investigated for years, something he called “a system failure.”
“Obviously, we own that,” Wills said.
Wills said authorities have “no reason not to believe” Gaspardo but decided a few weeks ago they could not prove her alleged attacker had forced her into intercourse.
He acknowledged police would have been in a far better position to investigate the case had they begun looking into the matter immediately.
“It can make a person so angry,” Gaspardo said. “Are women supposed to start wearing body cameras when they’re alone in a room with somebody?”
Many police sex assault units have heavy workloads and insufficient staffing, said Kevin Strom, the director of RTI International’s Center for Policing Research & Investigative Science, a research center based in North Carolina.
“I think that has a major impact in terms of influencing the ability of law enforcement to successfully clear these cases,” he said.
The clearance rate in rape cases dropped steadily in the 1960s, plateaued at nearly 50 percent through most of the 70s, 80s and 90s, then began a steady yearly decline that persisted through last year, according to the statistics collected by the FBI.
In 2013, the FBI significantly broadened the definition of rape in its Uniform Crime Reporting system to include oral penetration and attacks on men. After the revision, the number of rapes counted in the system soared from an average of around 84,500 per year between 1995 and 2012, to nearly 126,400 in 2016. The clearance rate after the adjustment continued to tick down, falling from 38 percent to 32 percent.
The number leapt again to 166,000 in 2017, a year when sexual assault got unprecedented national attention in the wake of allegations made against President Donald Trump and Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Both men deny assaulting anyone.
Rape complaints in New York City, for instance, surged 24.5 percent as the #MeToo movement took off, according to city crime statistics.
“I think that has a major impact in terms of influencing the ability of law enforcement to successfully clear these cases,” he said.
The NYPD, the nation’s biggest municipal police force, transferred three dozen investigators to the special victims division in April, trimming a detective’s average caseload from 77 to 64. The department also started an advertising campaign encouraging sexual assault victims to come forward.
“We believe that the stigma has been removed to a degree,” said Lori Pollock, the department’s chief of crime control strategies, “so people are much more comfortable — especially in domestic situations — to come forward and report rapes that are happening now and rapes that have happened in the past.”