Editor’s Note: This ranking is based on an analysis of official FBI crime data from 2012. Cities were compared using crime rates per 100,000 residents, a standard analytical practice, in order to objectively and fairly compare places of different sizes.
No matter where you go, there’s going to be crime—from the big cities, to the small towns, to everything in-between. It’s the latter we’re going to be taking a look at in our latest crime ranking, which is a follow-up to a post here on the Movoto Real Estate Blog from January of this year.
In that ranking, we highlighted the safest mid-sized cities in the country. This one is the other, tarnished side of that coin: the most dangerous mid-sized cities in America. If you read the aforementioned post, the number one place in our top 10 will come as no surprise. It was Little Rock, AR, and it was joined by nine other high-crime cities across the nation:
If you’ve been keeping track of our recent crime rankings, you’ll probably notice something different about this one right off the bat: namely that cities in Florida don’t make up a large percentage of the top 10. In fact, there is only one.
Also, for those who like to espouse conspiracy theories that we’re purposefully trying to avoid casting a negative light on anywhere in the Northern California Bay Area, you’ll see Richmond, CA on the list.
We’ll get into more specifics soon enough. For now, let’s take a look at how we put this list together.
How We Created This Ranking
For this ranking, we defined mid-sized cities as the 200 places in the U.S. ranked No. 100 through 300 in terms of population, or approximately 251,000 through 94,000 in size.
We evaluated these places based on verified crime statistics from the FBI’s 2012 Unified Crime Report, the latest published by the bureau. Six places were omitted due to incomplete data—Augusta, GA, Columbia, SC, Chattanooga, TN, Lewisville, TX, San Angelo, TX, and West Valley City, UT—with the next-largest city taking their place to keep our total at 200.
Using the FBI report, we obtained the number of crimes committed in each place across seven categories in 2012:
- Vehicle Thefts
We used these numbers to rank each place in four main criteria per 100,000 residents: murders, violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery, assault), property crimes (burglary, theft, vehicle theft), and total crimes.
Some important details to note:
- Comparing crime rates based on the number of offenses per 100,000 residents is a standard practice utilized by news organizations and analysts. It is done in order to create a “level playing field” on which places of different sizes can be compared objectively.
- The crime rates include all reported crime that occurred in a city during the year of the report (2012) regardless of whether they were committed by residents or nonresidents. It is our position that crimes committed in a city are still crimes no matter who is responsible. This ranking is not designed nor intended to be a condemnation of a city or its residents, simply a purely data-driven analysis of crime.
- This study is not a critique of police practices or effectiveness. It is simply an analysis of where crimes occurred.
Each mid-sized city was given a rank across the four criteria from 1 to 200, with one being the most dangerous. These results were then weighted so that murder, violent crime, and property crime each accounted for 30 percent of the place’s overall score, while total crimes made up 10 percent. The lower the average of these weighted rankings were, the more dangerous the city was overall.
Little Rock obviously received the lowest average score, making it the most dangerous, but exactly why did it—and the nine other places in our top 10—place where they did? Keep reading to find out, and be sure to check out the top 50 most dangerous mid-sized cities at the end of this post.
While the capital of Arkansas has received its share of accolades in recent years, including a nod from Forbes in 2011 as the second cleanest city in the country, Little Rock’s crime rate was all we looked at for this ranking. Overall, it was bad enough to warrant the city’s naming as our most dangerous mid-sized city we studied.
Little Rock ranked second overall in terms of total crime, with 9,378 crimes per 100,000 in 2012. The chance of being a victim of one of those crimes stood at 1 in 21. The city’s rank for property crime was only slightly better at third, with 8,062 per 100,000 (1 in 24 odds) during the same period.
It was also ranked third for murder, with 23 per 100,000 and odds of 1 in 8,524. For violent crime, Little Rock placed fifth overall. There were 1,316 violent crimes per 100,000 people there in 2012, which translated to a 1 in 149 chance of being the victim of one.
2. Flint, MI
Having faced a serious crime problem for years, Flint is no stranger to the top of rankings of the country’s most dangerous places. However, at least by our metrics, it wasn’t the least safe mid-sized city in 2012. In fact, there’s some potentially good news on the horizons, with the Flint Police Department reporting a drop in various types of crime for the first quarter of 2014 versus the same period in previous years.
In the year-long period we studied, however, the outlook wasn’t so positive. Flint ranked worst overall in terms of murder and violent crime, with 62 and 2,729 per 100,000 residents, respectively. The chance of murder there was just 1 in 1,639 while you had a 1 in 37 chance of being the victim of a violent crime during 2012.
Flint’s ranking for total crime was slightly better at fourth overall with 8,284 per 100,000 or 1 in 12 odds. What kept this city from placing higher was its property crime rank, which stood at 18th overall with 5,555 non-violent crimes per 100,000.
3. Jackson, MS
Mississippi’s capital has a bit of a split personality when it comes to violent crime. On the one hand, it ranked 20th overall for violent crimes per 100,000 with 948; far from great, but at least not in the top 10. On the other hand, Jackson ranked second for murders per 100,000 with 36 during the same period. The odds of homicide were 1 in 4,887.
For property crime, this city ranked seventh overall, with 6,575 per 100,000 or 1 in 27 odds. In terms of total crimes, it stood at seventh, with its 7,523 crimes per 100,000 translating to a 1 in 23 chance of falling victim to one in 2012.
4. Dayton, OH
Ohio’s sixth-largest city has seen some highs and lows with its battle against crime for many years, and at least for 2012 it only saw one individual category climb into the top 10. Unfortunately, that category was murder, where the city placed 10th overall and had 17 per 100,000 residents (1 in 8,361 odds).
Total crime stood at 12th with 6,874 per 100,000 (1 in 21 odds), while property crime and violent crime ranked 13th and 16th, respectively. There were 5,900 property crimes and 974 violent crimes per 100,000 in 2012. Compare this to Akron, OH, which was the 15th most dangerous place in our ranking and 887 property crimes per 100,00 during the same period.
Although it’s about three hours west of our most sinful city for 2013, St. Louis, MO, Springfield can’t escape having a high crime rate. In fact, this city of 160,962 ranked absolute worst overall in terms of total crime.
For 2012, Springfield saw a staggering 10,003 crimes per 100,000 residents, with 1 in 21 odds of being the victim of one. It also ranked first for property crimes, with 9,011 per 100,000 during the same period. Springfield placed fifth overall mainly because it ranked 32nd for murder, with 10 per 100,000 or a 1 in 21,216 chance. That silver lining was tempered some by a 15th place rank for violent crime, based on 992 per 100,000.
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Knoxville tied with Springfield when it came to murders per 100,000 in 2012 with 10. This city came in sixth overall because of how it fared where Springfield did worst: total crime and property crime.
For the former, it ranked sixth, with 7,649 per 100,000 and 1 in 24 odds. For the latter, it was fifth, having seen 6,676 property crimes per 100,000. Violent crimes in Knoxville were fortunately not as prevalent, with 973 per 100,000 residents in 2012, a figure that earned the city a 17th place rank for that criterion.
It may have “haven” in its name, but New Haven isn’t a safe harbor from crime, especially the violent kind. Based on the FBI’s data for 2012, this city of nearly 130,000 ranked second out of those we looked at for violent crime, with 1,439 per 100,000 residents. That’s 1 in 214 odds of being the victim of one.
Proportionally, murders here were low, placing New Haven at 16th for that criterion with 13 homicides per 100,000 and tying it with the next spot on our top 10 in that regard. The city also placed 16th in terms of total crime, reporting 6,455 per 100,000 in 2012, an odds of 1 in 20. Property crime wasn’t nearly as big a factor as violent crime, as the 5,016 of the former per 100,000 placed New Haven at 33rd for non-violent offenses.
8. Lawton, OK
You might not have heard of Lawton prior to this, but you can be sure law enforcement agencies have. At 98,781 residents, it’s the smallest city in our top 10, but it tied with considerably larger New Haven in terms of murders per 100,000 with 13 in 2012.
As for its other crime rates, Lawton thankfully fared better. It was 22nd for total crime, with 6,203 per 100,000 and a 1 in 16 chance of crime. For violent crime, it ranked 23rd, having witnessed 931 during 2012. Finally, it ranked 26th overall for property crime with 5,272 per 100,000 people.
9. Richmond, CA (tie)
The first of two cities tied for ninth place, Richmond has an unfortunate history of being one of the most dangerous places in the San Francisco Bay Area. As our ranking shows, however, compared to other similarly sized cities, it’s at least not at the very top of the list.
Richmond ranked worst for violent crime, where it was eighth overall with 1,093 per 100,000 residents in 2012, or 1 in 214 odds of being a victim of this type of crime. Murder played a large factor in that number, however, with the city’s 17 homicides per 100,000 placing it at 10th overall for that criterion, a spot it shares with Dayon and the next place you’ll read about.
Property crimes dropped to 45th overall, with 4,717 per 100,000—a number comprised of 1,754 vehicle thefts, nearly three times higher than any other place in our top 10. Thirty places ranked worse for total crime, however, with Richmond seeing 5,810 per 100,000 in 2012 for an overall chance of crime of 1 in 18.
9. West Palm Beach, FL (tie)
Compared to our other recent most dangerous places rankings, where the top 10 included as many as three Florida cities, this ranking only has one: West Palm Beach. Its shared 10th place ranking for 17 murders per 100,000 in 2012 had a lot to do with it making this top 10.
West Palm Beach ranked 25th for both total crime and property crime, with 6,079 and 5,277 per 100,000, respectively. The overall chance of being a victim of crime there in 2012 was 1 in 17. Finally, this city ranked 30th for violent crime, with 802 per 100,000.
All Things Considered
In speaking with numerous people concerning the crime rankings we produce, we’ve heard a lot about the factors that contribute to the crime rate in different places. These include everything from demographics to tourists either committing or being the victims of said crimes.
While there are indeed many things to consider when looking at these statistics, the most important fact remains that no matter who commits these crimes or why, they are still occurring in these places. We don’t claim to know all the root causes of crime, but we do know what the data says, and we hope someone, somewhere will find this analysis useful—or at least thought provoking. Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments.
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