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A Waco crime scene technician photographs evidence near Richland Mall after Justin Wayne Bibles was shot in May.

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 other case involved the death of Taivunn Demontre Briscoe during what appeared to be a kidnapping. No arrests have been made in that case, and the investigation remains open.

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.”

Taivunn Demontre Briscoe

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.

Kenneth Warren Resendez

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.

Justin Wayne Bibles

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.

Raymond Morris

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.

Waco crime

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.”

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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