For years, experts have maintained that increases in unemployment and poverty result in rising crime rates. Data released earlier this year from the FBI show a marked decrease in the national violent crime rate, dropping from 431.9 crimes per 100,000 individuals to 403.6. This is the fourth year in a row crime has gone down, even as unemployment and poverty have continued to skyrocket. Experts are stumped.
There are some cities, however, where crime rates have increased. Using statistics from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports database, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) that bucked the national trend and experienced the largest increases in violent crime from 2005 to 2010.
Looking at all of these cities, there are no clear trends for any of the things that experts say cause crime to increase. Some of the areas where crime has risen have high poverty rates, low median income and high unemployment rates. Others are quite wealthy, with high median income and poverty rates half the national average. One of the cities where violent crime is soaring, Bismarck, N.D., had the lowest unemployment rate in the country last year, but violent crime still managed to more than double between 2005 and 2010.
National violent crime rates that improve as the economy worsens suggest that unemployment and poverty are not the main drivers of crime. That the cities with the largest increases in violent crime are so different suggests the same. What accounted for rising incidences of assault, murder and robbery were things like the spread of regional gangs, changes in law enforcement tactics, and funding issues — and usually not just one of these. For these cities, the national trend is irrelevant. The problem must be tackled at the local level.
These are the cities where violent crime is soaring.
10. Worcester, Mass.
> 5-year Increase in Violent Crime Rate: 96.5
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2005): 374.4
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2010): 470.9
> Murders per 100,000: 1.7
The rate of violent crime in the Worcester area increased more than 25% between 2005 and 2010. The increase is driven by the number of assaults. In 2005, there were fewer than 2,000 counts of aggravated assault in the region. The number increased nearly 50% by 2010 to 2,974. The region has a high median income — more than $10,000 per household above the national rate — below-average unemployment and low poverty. Despite these positive factors, Worcester’s violent crime rate, 470.9 per 100,000 residents, is well above the national average of 403.6.
9. Pueblo, Colo.
> 5-year Increase in Violent Crime Rate: 101.8
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2005): 483.4
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2010): 585.2
> Murders per 100,000: 2.6
Pueblo experienced an increase in violent crime of more than 20% between 2005 and 2010, a period in which the national rate dropped more than 14%. In 2008, Pueblo was the only county in Colorado where violent crime and property crime both increased. Because of that, according to the Vail Daily, county law enforcement received a $400,000 grant. Deputy Police Chief John Ercul described his biggest concerns as “guns, drugs and gang activity,” all of which were increasing. Under President Obama’s 2009 recovery plan, Colorado was awarded $29.8 million for law enforcement based on its violent crime rate. Roughly half a million dollars was awarded to Pueblo County.
8. Bismarck, N.D.
> 5-year Increase in Violent Crime Rate: 118.6
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2005): 109.9
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2010): 228.5
> Murders per 100,000: 1.8
In 2010, the Bismarck MSA, which includes Bismark and Mandan counties, had the lowest unemployment rate in the country — just 3.9% compared to a national average of 9.6%. Despite Bismarck’s extremely low unemployment, healthy median income and poverty rates well below the U.S. average, violent crime more than doubled between 2005 and 2010. The rise was driven by a substantial increase in aggravated assaults reported in the area. In 2005, there were just 35 cases of assault within the city limits. In 2010, that number increased nearly five times to 158. According to a report in the Bismarck Tribune, Grand Forks Police Chief John Packett said, “The total numbers are relatively low, although they are serious.” While the violent crime rate has gone up dramatically, it is still well below the national average.
7. Napa, Calif.
> 5-year Increase in Violent Crime Rate: 122
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2005): 358.1
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2010): 480.1
> Murders per 100,000: 1.5
The Napa County MSA is located to the northeast of San Francisco. The area fared poorly, as did much of California, between 2005 and 2010. The poverty rate jumped from 7% to 11.7% and unemployment more than doubled. Violent crime increased from 358.1 per 100,000 people (below the national average) to 480.1 per 100,000 (well above the national average.) According to the Napa Valley Register, local residents were asked what their top concerns were, and one of the biggest was violent crime. In response to rising crime, especially related to youth gangs, the county has drafted a Gang and Youth Violence Master Plan to help law enforcement officials.
6. Lawton, Okla.
> 5-year Increase in Violent Crime Rate: 123.8
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2005): 674.9
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2010): 771.7
> Murders per 100,000: 4.4
Like other metro areas with rising violent crime, Lawton’s economic conditions are all over the map. Poverty rates above median income are bad, but unemployment rate is particularly good, standing at 6.4% in 2010. The violent crime rate of 674.9 per 100,000 residents in 2005 was one of the highest in the country. The number rose to 771.7 last year, the 15th highest in the U.S. According to NewsOK, while violent crime has increased in the region, law enforcement staffing has actually decreased.
5. Mobile, Ala.
> 5-year Increase in Violent Crime Rate: 137
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2005): 397.1
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2010): 534.1
> Murders per 100,000: 7.4
Mobile is one of the poorest cities in the U.S. In 2010, more than 20% of the residents lived below the poverty line. In that same year, 12.8% of Mobile households earned less than $10,000. While certain types of violent crime, including murder and robbery, actually declined between 2005 and 2010, the total rate jumped by 35% because of a massive rise in cases of aggravated assault.
4. Odessa, Tex.
> 5-year Increase in Violent Crime Rate: 158.7
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2005): 499.5
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2010): 658.2
> Murders per 100,000: 5.2
The number of violent crimes committed in Odessa increased nearly 32% from 2005 to 2010. In 2010, there were 658.2 violent crimes per 100,000 people, significantly more than the national rate of 403.6. Meanwhile, the number of robberies jumped from 76 to 110. The number of aggravated assaults increased from 535 to 741. Twenty percent of the city’s population lives below the poverty line, well above the national average.
3. Albany, Ga.
> 5-year Increase in Violent Crime Rate: 191.2
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2005): 374.8
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2010): 566
> Murders per 100,000: 8.7
Albany is one of the poorest MSA’s in the country. Median income is $34,002, more than $15,000 below the national average. In 2010, more than 15% of the region’s households made less than $10,000, and an incredible 27.7% of all households were living below the poverty line. The violent crime rate more than doubled between 2005 and 2010, with across-the-board increases in murders, robberies and aggravated assaults. According to WALB News, a task force was created to stop gang violence in 2009. The city’s chief of police reported nearly 300 arrests in one year.
2. Victoria, Tex.
> 5-year Increase in Violent Crime Rate: 213.8
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2005): 352.9
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2010): 566.7
> Murders per 100,000: 6.9
Though Victoria’s population has remained roughly the same since 2005, the number of violent crimes increased 68% between 2005 and 2010. Median household income increased substantially during that time, growing from $36,500 to $45,800. Meanwhile, the poverty rate grew from 15.4% to 19.5% and unemployment stayed relatively low at 7.6% in 2010. The number of aggravated assaults rose dramatically. There were 297 cases in 2005 and 497 in 2010. However, the number of property crimes, which include burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft, decreased by nearly 300 incidents per capita.
1. Redding, Calif.
> 5-year Increase in Violent Crime Rate: 321.7
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2005): 475.4
> Violent Crime per 100,000 (2010): 797.1
> Murders per 100,000: 1.6
The number of violent crimes per 100,000 people in Redding increased by 321.7 to a staggering 797.1 — the ninth-highest violent crime rate in the country. Robberies increased by more than 25%, and cases of aggravated assault more than doubled. As reported on Redding.com, Redding police chief Peter Hanson stated, “The spike in violence could be caused by a mix of factors, including the economy and drug addiction as well as the reduction in the number of officers on the streets due to budget cuts.”
Michael B. Sauter, Charles B. Stockdale