After falling for five consecutive years, the number of violent crimes across the United States rose by 1.2% in 2012. Based on data published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the increase was even greater in some of America’s largest cities. In 2012, for the third year in a row, Flint, Michigan had the highest violent crime rate in the country.
According to the FBI, violent crime includes murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. In some cases, the cities with the highest violent crime rate, including Flint and Oakland, had high rates in all four categories. However, most of the most violent cities tend to do very poorly only in a few categories. Based on the FBI Uniform Crime Report, these are the 10 most dangerous cities in America.
Crime in these cities is typically not limited to just violent crime. Three cities — Birmingham, St. Louis and Oakland — were among the 10 worst cities in the nation for both violent crime and property crime. In some of the most dangerous cities, specific types of property crime were especially common. Flint and Cleveland had among the highest burglary rates, while Oakland, Detroit and St. Louis had among the highest rates of vehicle theft.
The economies of many of the most dangerous cities have been in bad shape for years, in some cases long before the Great Recession. The populations of many of the most dangerous cities declined, leaving behind highly impoverished urban centers. The loss of economic diversity, explained John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban institute, only serves to exacerbate crime in cities like Detroit, Flint, Cleveland and St. Louis.
In fact, all the 10 most dangerous cities had poverty rates above the national rate of 15.9% in 2011. In half of these cities, more than 30% of the population lived in poverty. Detroit and Flint had poverty rates of more than 40%. “It is very clear that poverty in particular is associated with higher crime rates,” explained Roman.
However, the relationship between the two is less certain. It is “very difficult to say whether crime makes places poorer, or poverty causes more crime,” Roman noted.
In many of the nation’s most dangerous cities, unemployment is also extremely high. Seven of the 10 cities with the highest levels of violent crime had unemployment rates above 10% in 2012, much higher than the national unemployment rate of 8.1% that year. In two cities, Detroit and Stockton, the unemployment rate was more than 18% last year.
Low educational attainment also goes hand-in-hand with high crime rates. In all of the 10 most dangerous cities, the percentage of adults with a high school diploma was below the 86% national average. In five of these metro areas, the percentage of adults with a diploma was below 80%.
On its website, the FBI instructs readers to avoid comparing city violence because rankings tend to be simplistic and ignore factors that influence crime, as well as the different ways crimes are measured and reported. For this reason, Roman cautioned against directly comparing cities based on their individual crime rates. However, because the cities with the highest and lowest violent crime rates have remained consistent for many years, he believes comparing city ranks was useful.
Based on the FBI’s Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 U.S. cities with populations of 100,000 or more with the highest rates of violent crime per 100,000 residents. Using estimated populations and crime incidents from the FBI, which measures incidents of eight types of violent and nonviolent crime for 2012, 24/7 Wall St. calculated the incidence of the four types of violent crime per 100,000 persons for that year: murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. In addition to crime data, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed median income and poverty rates for these cities from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2011, the most recent available year. We also included average 2012 unemployment rates for these cities from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
10. Cleveland, Ohio
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,383.8
> Population: 393,781
> 2012 murders: 84
> Poverty rate: 34.3%
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 77.0%
More than 825 robberies were reported in Cleveland for every 100,000 residents last year, the second highest robbery rate in the nation behind only Oakland. The total number of robberies in the city rose from 3,156 in 2011 to 3,252 in 2012. Cleveland also had the nation’s second highest burglary rate in 2012, with close to 2,500 burglaries per 100,000 residents. Unlike robbery, burglary does not involve force or coercion and is not considered a violent crime. Recently, the highly publicized discovery of three area women that had been missing for roughly a decade and held captive within the city led to extensive criticism of the Cleveland Police Department. Cleveland is one of the nation’s poorest large cities with a median household income of just $25,731 in 2011 — barely over half the national median.
9. Baltimore, Md.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,405.7
> Population: 625,474
> 2012 murders: 219
> Poverty rate: 25.1%
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 80.5%
There were 219 murders in Baltimore in 2012, more than all but five other major cities both in absolute terms and per capita. In addition, the city’s robbery rate of 576.4 cases per 100,000 people was the ninth highest in the country. Despite remaining one of the most violent cities, city officials noted that crime rates have been declining. While the total number of murders increased, total gun crime fell by 6% compared to 2011, according to the Baltimore Police Department. In addition, the city’s property crime rate of 4,660.3 cases per 100,000 residents was lower than any of the top cities for violent crime.
8. New Haven, Conn.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,439.2
> Population: 129,934
> 2012 murders: 17
> Poverty rate: 30.1%
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 78.4%
There were 766 robberies in New Haven in 2011, or 589.1 cases per 100,000 residents, the eighth highest rate among all cities considered that year. In 2012, the number of robberies in the city jumped to 844. At 649.6 robberies per 100,000 residents, this was one of the highest rates recorded in 2012. But while both robberies and aggravated assaults rose last year, the number of murders declined from 34 in 2011 to just 17 in 2012. Gun violence remains a concern for the community. Recently, police began reaching out to known gang members on probation or parole to offer help to members looking to earn a high school diploma or otherwise improve their lives. As of 2011, just 78.4% of New Haven residents over 25 had a high school diploma, much lower than the 85.9% rate nationwide.
7. Birmingham, Ala.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,517.8
> Population: 213,266
> 2012 murders: 67
> Poverty rate: 32.0%
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 81.3%
Birmingham had among the 10 highest murder and aggravated assault rates at 31.4 cases per 100,000 people and 954.2 cases per 100,000 residents, respectively, in 2012. The city also had 6,934.1 property crimes per 100,000 people in 2012, higher than all but four other cities. This included 2,205.7 burglaries per 100,000, the sixth highest of all cities. City residents are in a far worse economic position than the nation as a whole. The median household income in Birmingham was just $28,646 in 2011, far lower than the $50,502 across the United States. Also, 32% of the population lived below the poverty line that year, compared with just under 16% nationwide.
6. Stockton, Calif.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,548.0
> Population: 299,105
> 2012 murders: 71
> Poverty rate: 25.8%
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 75.1%
The number of violent crimes reported in Stockton rose from 4,155 in 2011 to 4,630 in 2012. This was partly due to the increase in the number of robberies, from 1,323 in 2011 to 1,556 last year, and the increase in the number of aggravated assaults, from 2,684 in 2011 to 2,913 in 2012. As a result of this uptick in crime, Stockton had some of the highest incidences of murder, robbery and aggravated assault in the nation. Stockton also holds the dubious distinction of being the largest city in U.S. history, by population, to enter bankruptcy. In the city proper, the unemployment rate was 18.3% in 2012, more than 10 percentage points above the national rate last year.
5. Memphis, Tenn.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,750.0
> Population: 657,436
> 2012 murders: 133
> Poverty rate: 27.2%
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 83.4%
Memphis had the third highest rate of aggravated assault in 2012, with 1,151.9 cases per 100,000 residents. This was up from the 1,032.3 cases per 100,000 in 2011. The city’s murder rate of 20.2 per 100,000 people and robbery rate of 514.4 per 100,000 people were also up from 2011. The high levels of crime has people in the Memphis area feeling uneasy. According to a recent Gallup survey, roughly 43% of Memphis area residents reported feeling unsafe walking at night, the highest percentage of all the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country and significantly higher than the 28% across the United States.
4. St. Louis, Mo.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,776.5
> Population: 318,667
> 2012 murders: 113
> Poverty rate: 27.0%
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 83.9%
There were 1,120.6 aggravated assaults per 100,000 people in St. Louis in 2012, higher than all but three other cities. Moreover, the murder rate of 35.5 cases per 100,000 was the fifth highest of all cities. Although St. Louis’s violent crime was still among the highest in the country, it has improved. There were 80 less violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2012 compared to 2011 — the best improvement of any city on this list, with the drop mostly attributable to 106 less robberies per 100,000 people in 2012 compared to the previous year. Law enforcement officials attributed some of the drop to an increased police presence in high-crime neighborhoods.
3. Oakland, Calif.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,993.1
> Population: 399,487
> 2012 murders: 126
> Poverty rate: 21.0%
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 79.9%
There were 1,085.9 robberies per 100,000 residents in Oakland in 2012, higher than any other city. This was also significantly higher than the 851.2 robberies per 100,000 just a year earlier. The rates of murder and aggravated assaults also increased in 2012 compared to 2011. Violent crime was not the only issue in Oakland, either — there were 6,594 property crimes per 100,000 residents in 2012, more than all but eight other cities, and up from 5,287.9 in 2011. Crime in the city has increased ever since the city’s police department went through a round of layoffs in 2010 due to $30.5 million deficit.
2. Detroit, Mich.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 2,122.6
> Population: 707,096
> 2012 murders: 386
> Poverty rate: 40.9%
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 77.4%
Detroit’s murder rate of 54.2 per 100,000 residents was the second highest in the country last year. The homicide rate in Detroit, which included 386 criminal murders and an additional 25 justifiable homicides, reached the highest level in nearly 40 years. In addition, the city’s aggravated assault rate of 1,320.8 cases per 100,000 people was also the second highest in the United States, although this was an improvement from the 1,333.6 cases per 100,000 residents in 2011. Detroit has struggled economically in recent years. The city’s 2012 unemployment rate was a whopping 18.6%, much higher than the 8.1% across the nation last year. The median household income of $25,193 was less than half the national median for 2011.
1. Flint, Mich.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 2,729.5
> Population: 101,632
> 2012 murders: 63
> Poverty rate: 40.6%
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 82.9%
With a staggering 2,729.5 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, no city had a higher violent crime rate than Flint. The city of just 101,632 people had 63 total murders and 1,930 aggravated assaults, both the highest relative to the city’s population. Flint also had nationwide highs in burglary rates and arson per 100,000 people. The sheriff of Genesee County, where Flint is located, proposed a plan to create a violent crime mobile response unit that would cost $3 million. However, Governor Rick Snyder rejected the plan because he believed resources would be better “integrated into the ongoing efforts to make Flint safer.” Like Detroit, Flint has suffered economically in recent years. The median household income was just $23,380 in 2011, the second-lowest of all 555 cities measured by the U.S. Census Bureau.
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