Developing a reliable measure of a city’s safety, especially if you’re comparing them, requires a full count of the total number and types of violent crimes in each city, and getting the cities on a level playing field for comparison.
Sure, bigger cities often have more violent crimes than smaller cities. But they have more people, too. Your chances of becoming a victim of crime may actually be lower in many big cities due to the lower violent crime rate per population.
Our research reveals the 100 most dangerous cities in America with 25,000 or more people, based on the number of violent crimes per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes include murder, forcible rape, armed robbery, and aggravated assault. Data used for this research are 1) the number of violent crimes reported to the FBI to have occurred in each city, and 2) the population of each city.
What makes NeighborhoodScout’s analysis more comprehensive than others is the fact that we take into account all 17,000 law enforcement agencies in America for each city with a population more than 25,000. Many cities across the country are served by more than one agency: they include municipal police, county sheriff, transit police, university or campus police, public school police, park and port police, tribal police, and more. By using this unique method, we’re able to provide an accurate and holistic representation of total crime known to occur within a city or town - not just those reported by a single agency.
Once this complete count of known crimes is assembled for each city in America, we leveled the playing field by dividing the number of violent crimes by the population of each city, divided by 1,000. This reveals the violent crime rate per 1,000 population, allowing us to compare and rank the cities. The results are eye-opening.
Rankings of the country’s most dangerous cities tend to defy stereotypes — and, if this 5th annual research list of NeighborhoodScout’s 100 most dangerous cities is any indication — show several interesting trends. The most notable thing here is the perception that large cities are the only places that are dangerous. In fact, it looks like high violent crime rates are less about city size than they are about economic issues in many communities, that drive away the educated and affluent as they pursue employment elsewhere, and draw in – or retain – the less well-off and less mobile. Take for example 1 on the list — Camden, New Jersey. Across the river from Philadelphia (way down at position 55), Camden has risen in rank to 1 over the past several years, beating out typically high-ranking cities like Chester 2, Saginaw 4, and Flint 7.
NeighborhoodScout’s report shows that in the past year Camden has seen 1,895 violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault). While these numbers are much less than Philadelphia’s next door (17,088 violent crimes), factoring in population size is what pushes Camden to the top of the list. Camden soars over the national average of 3.8 violent crimes per 1,000 people with 25.66 (more than six times the national average).
The report on Camden, NJ, as with all cities on the list, breaks things down further by visually ranking the neighborhoods within the city by crime rate on a map. The map colors show relative safety of neighborhoods within the city, but the colors do not facilitate comparison of neighborhood safety from one city to another. Instead, to see full and comparable crime reports for any neighborhood in America, simply click on a neighborhood from the map on any city report. Or you can enter an address in the search bar at the top of the page on NeighborhoodScout to get the neighborhood report for that address. As throughout the site, much of the neighborhood level data is reserved for subscribers.
“With this report on the most dangerous cities, what we’re seeing is a really different picture of the types of locations that have the highest violent crime from what many people expect,” says Andrew Schiller, CEO and founder of NeighborhoodScout. “The picture of violent crime in America in many people’s minds is of high rise public housing projects, but once we did the analysis, we realized that the picture of violent crime in America is different today with more of the most dangerous areas dominated by single family homes, abandoned homes, low-income areas in inner-ring suburbs or decaying cities. High rise public housing is no longer the dominant picture of violence in America.” This matches up with the report: the list’s top-ten is devoid of America’s biggest cities. Only 3 are mid-to-large sized cities (Oakland 5, Memphis 10, and Detroit 3). The rest are smaller, around or below populations of 100,000 people. Bessemer 6 is just outside of Birmingham (itself ranked at number 26); Camden 1 and Chester 2 are near Philadelphia, which is ranked at 55. Expand to the entire list and you can find more examples: Compton 33 is outside of Los Angeles, Baton Rouge 93 is outside of New Orleans, and East Palo Alto 44, Oakland 5, and Richmond 68, circle San Francisco.
What is equally interesting is which cities did not make the list: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York are all absent, despite being the centers for some of the largest urban areas in the nation.
But look who did make the list: Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Buffalo. These are cities in America’s heartland and Great Lakes regions.
This isn’t to say that the cities you’d expect aren’t here: besides Detroit at 3, St. Louis is 14, Cleveland 16, Baltimore 18, and Washington DC comes in at 30. Miami is all the way at 47, Philadelphia ranks 55th most dangerous, and Houston is at 69.
Also interesting is the inclusion of several recognizable American tourist destinations on the list. Myrtle Beach 12, Atlantic City 8, Daytona Beach 34, and Niagara Falls 45 all make the cut, in spite of their small permanent populations. In these cities, with their constantly-refreshing populations of visitors, the question of who is committing these crimes comes up. How does this unstable population foster such high crime rates? Is it that more crime is directed towards tourists? Or do the visitors bring conflict with them? Also, why do these other equally top tourist cities not make the list: Hilton Head or Charleston, (both in South Carolina like much more dangerous Myrtle Beach), Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, and Sarasota (all in Florida like much more dangerous Daytona Beach), Virginia Beach, Southampton, Newport, RI, Monterey, or even Las Vegas?
It appears that just being a tourist locale is not enough to drive most tourist hot spots onto the list of most dangerous cities, but rather the character of the communities themselves seem to be more at root of the problem: unemployment, low educational attainment, and other social issues with which the communities struggle, regardless of their attraction to tourists.
Law enforcement does the best it can, but it has to play the hand it was dealt. Some communities have more social issues than others and consequently may have higher violent crime rates despite concerted efforts by local law enforcement.
This ranking provides a holistic depiction of the total crime, and types of crime that occur within each of these cities, down to the neighborhood level. Population information is taken from the Census Bureau, and all crimes listed are those that the FBI classifies as ‘Final, Non-preliminary’ to avoid the need for updates and edits.
While getting on a ranking list like this is never heartening, it can be enlightening and useful. It can be a rallying point for communities to begin or expand a conversation about issues in the community and working together to solve them. The police cannot do it alone. And sometimes, recognizing a problem is the first step towards fixing it. One thing this report illustrates is that the highest crime rates are found in areas of high population density, lower income and – often - lower real estate values than neighboring communities. Like so much, it often comes down to the nature of the local economy. It is not how big your economy is, but what type of economy you have. What types of jobs, and who is attracted to those jobs.
Click on any city name below to get a report