Dangers in Waco continue to decline

Photo credit: Richard Hirst

By Emma King, Staff Writer

It took countless hours over three semesters for Lipscomb, senior Kathleen Tyson to dig up the data that proves that Waco’s crime rates have been declining for the last 20 years.

“I was honestly really surprised,” Tyson said. “When I first got to Baylor, all I heard was ‘Waco is really dangerous.’”

Tyson is a University Scholar major, with a concentration in criminal justice and forensic science. She took on the task of researching Waco’s crime rates for her senior thesis, which totaled a 71 pages.

“It was a good and important topic because the topic directly concerns the place where Baylor is located, and therefore the finding from her thesis should be an interest to many people,” said Dr. Sung Joon Jang, research professor of criminology and co-director of the program on prosocial behavior within Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

Jang served as Tyson’s mentor and the chair for Tyson’s thesis committee.

Tyson said she was fascinated by all the theories of how crime rates go up and down. She said when she contacted Jang to be her mentor, he told her there was no one else doing research on Waco and he thought it would be a good idea.

Tyson sifted through 84 years of city data, found in the Baylor Police database and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s uniform crime report. She focused on property crimes and violent crimes, discovering that property crimes have been on the decline in Waco since 1988, and violent crimes began following suit in 1991.

“Waco is actually a much safer place to live than Dallas or Houston,” Tyson said.

She said that in the 1980s, Waco’s crime rate was higher than those three cities, but as of 2013, Waco’s rates were lower than those cities and lower than Texas’ crime rates.

Her investigation also revealed that Bellmead has higher and increasing crime rates compared to Waco, while Woodway, Robison and Hewitt have lower crime rates, but show no trends.

Though Jang said other social vectors must have contributed to Waco’s rates trending downward, he also said that he thinks police should get some credit and that it should be an encouragement to them.

“I was actually happy for Waco because I think that means the police force and the different policies they’ve implemented in the last 20 years are helping,” Tyson said.

From 1991 to 2013, residential burglaries have decreased from 2,466 cases to 1,028 and criminal mischief has decreased from 2,220 cases to 1,100, according to Waco Police Department’s 23 Year Crime Report Comparison.

“The findings may come as a surprise to many people who has a misconceived notion of Waco’s crime situation,” Jang said.

Tyson referenced individual instances, like the Twin Peaks shooting, and said it was just a singular event and not a true representation of where Waco is heading.

Since Tyson examined so many years of data, Jand said it is a remarkable picture of how crime rates are declining.

Tyson said she was happy to see that Waco is following similar trends as the United States, so she was able to look at those too.

“She did a very good job in checking down data sets and she has been very persistent and certainly there were ups and downs but she finished her project and I commend her for that,” Jang said of Tyson.

Tyson said the project was more massive than she thought it would be, but that she hopes her findings will help shed light on the reality of crime in Waco.