Home > Blog

NeighborhoodScout’s Murder Capitals of America – 2015

Jan 1, 2015 | by: Dr. Andrew Schiller | Crime
NeighborhoodScout’s Murder Capitals of America – 2015

Countdown of the top 30 cities in the U.S. with the highest murder rates – 2015

That murder rates in major U.S. cities are on the decline is popular knowledge. New York City is often held up as the example: in 1990, NYC had more than two thousand homicides, by 2014 that number was down to just over 300. It’s a common trend of many cities, including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Dallas, among others. Even cities with especially high murder rates have seen a relative decline: New Orleans ranks 9 on this year’s list, down from 4 last year, and St. Louis improved from 10 to 12.

On our ranking of America’s murder capitals, some cities show up that you might expect: Detroit ranks number 7, St. Louis 12, and Baltimore 13. Until recently large cities dominated murder-capital conversations; now this list is populated mostly by middle-sized cities as well as smaller cities in close proximity to larger ones. The smaller cities either serve or once did serve as industrial satellites to their larger neighbors. These smaller satellites show up on the list, while nearby larger cities sometimes don’t register. Camden ranks at number 2 but nearby Philadelphia does not make the list, Compton ranks 14 and San Bernardino 28, but Los Angeles doesn’t make the list, East Chicago ranks 15 and Harvey 11, but not Chicago proper. Perhaps these inner-ring suburbs and industrial satellites have contributed to the perception of their larger counterparts’ lingering reputations. Misinformed reporting may be to blame as well — using murder counts instead of murder rates, the later which normalize for population size and provide a better indication of your chance of becoming a victim compared to simple counts, which are generally just higher in bigger cities.

As with NeighborhoodScout’s ranking of the 100 most dangerous cities in the U.S., the Pacific-northwest, and the Great Plains don’t have any cities ranked at all. Also, there are no murder capitals in New England. All of the cities on the list, save for those in California, are either on or to the east of the Mississippi River. On the west coast, Oakland is the farthest north.

Big cities can have more murders than small cities, but not as a rate per population. This NeighborhoodScout report factors in population size to determine the number of murders in each city per 1,000 people, thereby normalizing for population and more clearly representing the risk to residents of a city.

While its population is tiny, East St. Louis ranks at #1 with the highest murder rate: .86 murders per thousand residents, approximately twenty one times the national average – while Baton Rouge ranks 30th on the list with .21 murders per thousand residents, just over four times the national average. We use the FBI’s definition for murder {homicide}, which is “the willful, non-negligent killing of one person by another,” and all cities included on this list are required to have a population of 25,000 or more.

Unlike other crime ranking reports NeighborhoodScout uniquely factors in reported crimes from all 17,000 law enforcement agencies across the country, including homicides reported by all of the multiple law enforcement agencies who may have law enforcement responsibility in all or part of a community, such as municipal agencies, transit police, port police, park police, campus or university police, and more, providing a holistic and accurate picture of murder rates in each of the listed cities. Murder rates for every city in the country whose law enforcement agency or agencies reported — even those not on this list — are available as well.

Speculation about what factors are at play in decreasing murder rates in larger cities vary across the board. Take your pick. Some chalk it up to improved preventative policing measures and an increase in the use of surveillance technology. Prison sentences are longer, on average, perhaps keeping would-be criminals off the streets. The price of living in the city proper in many popular locales has increased dramatically, pushing lower-income groups to the outskirts, or at least to the close-in inner ring of older suburbs and industrial satellites. The boomers are getting older — so there just aren’t as many young people to commit violent crime. Any of these could be in play — and while articles focusing on decreasing crime rates in larger cities and their causes abound, lists like this one shed light on the pattern of where the murders are still occurring at the greatest rate, sometimes in neighboring cities just outside the central city and in middle sized cities in America’s heartland.

As you’d expect, a majority of the cities on this list also appear on this year’s ‘100 Most Dangerous Cities’ list, with a few exceptions. These include: Barberton, OH 26, East Chicago, IN 15, East St. Louis, IL 1, Petersburg, VA 23, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18, York, PA 21, and Youngstown, OH 29. These are all relatively small cities — none of them with populations exceeding 70,000. The ‘Most Dangerous Cities’ metric involves combining rates of all four types of violent crimes tracked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation: homicide, rape, armed robbery, and aggravated assault. So, while these cities’ total violent crime rates don’t put them in the top 100, their murder rates are higher than most others in the nation.

Data like these can be interpreted in several ways. For example, It can be used as a way to measure symptomatic responses to economic, political, and policing changes. On the other hand, increasing murder rates in satellite cities can be viewed as a change that follows economic revitalization in the central cities, and shifting economies of lower-income, less expensive communities nearby. Fewer murders may be happening in major cities-but they’re still happening nearby — and there’s plenty to be learned.

See our FAQ on how we rank the cities with the highest murder rates.

The countdown for the Top 30 Murder Capitals of America:

Rank City
30 Baton Rouge, LA
29 Youngstown, OH
28 San Bernardino, CA
27 Oakland, CA
26 Barberton, OH
25 Poughkeepsie, NY
24 Cincinnati, OH
23 Petersburg, VA
22 Wilmington, DE
21 York, PA
20 East Palo Alto, CA
19 Jackson, MS
18 Wilkes-Barre, PA
17 Birmingham, AL
16 East Point, GA
15 East Chicago, IN
14 Compton, CA
13 Baltimore, MD
12 St. Louis, MO
11 Harvey, IL
10 Newark, NJ
9 New Orleans, LA
8 Trenton, NJ
7 Detroit, MI
6 Flint, MI
5 Saginaw, MI
4 Chester, PA
3 Gary, IN
2 Camden, NJ
1 East St. Louis, IL