Special Report

Ten U.S. Cities Where Violent Crime Is Soaring

138085780According to data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the United States is becoming safer nearly every year. In the 20 years through 2012, the U.S. violent crime rate has been almost cut in half. Just since 2007, the nation’s violent crime rate has declined from 471.8 to 386.9 incidents per 100,000 people.

While the prevalence of violent crime — which includes murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — has declined in many of the nation’s metropolitan areas, in some regions it has increased. In Bismarck, North Dakota, the violent crime rate more-than doubled — from 167.5 cases per 100,000 people in 2007 to 354.3 in 2013. Based on figures published by the FBI, these are the metropolitan areas with the greatest increases in violent crime rate.

Click here to see the cities where violent crime is soaring

Not all measures of crime produce the same results. While reported offenses of violent crimes were down slightly on a per capita basis in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, estimates that include non-reported offenses indicate that the violent crime rate actually rose in 2012. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Crime not reported to police and simple assault accounted for the majority of this increase.”

Although it remains difficult to precisely determine the violent crime rate, the exact relationship between crime and the economy is similarly unclear . Some experts believe that people are more likely to commit crimes as the economy stumbles, while others suggest this relationship is unresolved and that more opportunities to commit crime may arise as the economy improves.

“As you just sort of think through the mechanics of a crime, it makes total sense,” John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, told 24/7 Wall St. “Your car is much less likely to be stolen if its in your garage than if its in the mall parking lot…and your home is much less likely to be burglarized if you’re in it than if you’re somewhere else spending money.”

In many of the metro areas where crime rose the most, the economy has been especially strong. This is the case with Odessa, Texas, an oil boom town that has experienced rapid economic growth and large inflows of people. Two other metro areas, Columbus, Indiana, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, have also experienced strong growth in recent years.

One of the hidden factors that could be driving up crime rates in areas with thriving economies may be shifting local demographics, Roman explained. “The biggest predictor of committing a criminal act is being young, male, and relatively low-skilled. And when you have these big natural resource booms you’re attracting lots and lots of those people to your community.” As a result, it is not organized criminals driving up crime rates as much as it is likely younger men looking for work, Roman said.

Generally, aggravated assault was the most reported violent crime in 2012, accounting for more than 62% of incidents. This was especially the case in many of the areas that led the nation in rising violent crime rates. Even as most of these areas had dramatic increases in assault rates, most had declining murder rates, and some even had decreases in property crime.

Aside from changing demographics, another factor that may affect crime statistics may be the area’s reporting trends. According to Roman, if police signal they are cracking down on crimes such as domestic violence, they may be able to encourage more people to report a crime.

Drug use, too, may play a role in promoting crime in some areas. Heroin use is on the rise in a number of metro areas because crackdowns on prescription pill abuse “drives people into the black market for heroin,” Roman said. While heroin users are no more likely to be violent, the environment in which drugs are bought and sold is often more dangerous, leading to potentially higher crime rates.

Based on figures published by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, 24/7 Wall St. determined the 10 metropolitan statistical areas where crime rates rose the most between 2007 and 2012. In order to be considered, areas had to retain the same geographic boundaries during the period covered, and they had to retain a consistent reporting practices. For some MSAs, less than all areas reported offenses. For these areas, FBI estimates totals based on offenses from areas actually reporting. Additionally, we also reviewed unemployment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as well as the BLS’s “Economy At A Glance” tables.

These are the 10 U.S. cities where violent crime is soaring.

10. Lewiston, Idaho-Wash.
> 5-year increase in violent crime rate: 44.5%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2007): 125.1
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2012): 180.8
> Murders per 100,000: 0.0

Between 2007 and 2012, the Lewiston metro area has experienced large increases in both robbery and aggravated assault. The area is relatively small, however. There were just eight robberies in 2007 and only 16 in 2012. For aggravated assault, there were only 83 reported cases in 2012, up from five years before. Property crimes rose during that time as well, from 1,883 to 2,135. Still, the city remained relatively safe, with violent crime less than half as prevalent as it was nationally. In one recent initiative to help deter crime, Lewiston pawn shops are turning to electronic monitoring systems to more-rapidly determine whether items brought into their stores are stolen.

9. Appleton, Wis.
> 5-year increase in violent crime rate: 46.1%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2007): 105.4
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2012): 154.0
> Murders per 100,000: 0.4

By many measures, the Appleton metro area is quite safe. There were just 154 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2012, well below the U.S. rate of 386.9 such crimes. However, this marks a considerable increase from 2007, when the area had just 105.4 violent crimes per 100,000 people. According to The Post-Crescent, Appleton police have developed tactics for dealing with rising heroin use in the area. The city’s police chief also told the paper that the department would also continue to prioritize domestic violence. According to the Urban Institute’s Roman, such initiatives can change victims’ reporting behavior, and make them more likely to come forward. While crime is generally down in the area over the last five years, the number of reported aggravated assault cases rose from 145 in 2007 to 273 in 2012.

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8. Bangor, Maine
> 5-year increase in violent crime rate: 46.8%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2007): 61.5
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2012): 90.3
> Murders per 100,000: 5.2

Bangor had the lowest violent crime rate of all metro areas in 2007 and remained among the nation’s lowest as of 2012. However, given the area’s small size, the slight uptick in violent crime — which rose from a total of 90 incidents in 2007 to139 incidents in 2012 — meant the increase in the violent crime rate was one of the largest in the country. Heroin use, which has been on the rise in the state, is up in the city as well, one officer told the Bangor Daily News. Addiction to heroin has caused broader health problems as well. According to The New York Times, Governor Paul LePage recently noted that more than 7% of infants born in the state last year were addicted to drugs.

7. Sioux Falls, S.D.
> 5-year increase in violent crime rate: 49.7%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2007): 202.6
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2012): 303.3
> Murders per 100,000: 0.9

Both violent and property crime rates have risen in the Sioux Falls metro area in recent years, and local politicians have taken note of the problem. Crime has become a major topic in the city’s mayoral race, even as Sioux Falls’ economy has grown at a rapid pace The area’s unemployment rate was just 5.3% in 2012, while job growth has been robust in recent years. Still, crime rates have risen broadly. In total, there were just 445 violent crimes and 4,333 property crimes in 2007. By 2012, those figures had risen to 713 and 5,816, respectively. Despite the increase, the area’s crime rates remain considerably below national rates.

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6. Morgantown, W. Va.
> 5-year increase in violent crime rate: 50.8%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2007): 191.0
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2012): 288.1
> Murders per 100,000: 2.3

Cases of aggravated assault, which more-than doubled over the past five years, have largely driven the rise in the Morgantown area’s violent crime rate. Aside from aggravated assaults, other violent crime rates actually declined between 2007 and 2012, as did property crime rates. Morgantown’s 5.3% unemployment rate in 2012 was one of the lower ones in the nation. Job growth in the area has been positive in recent years, and the unemployment rate has returned to pre-recession levels. The city of Morgantown itself is quite small with only about 30,000 residents, while the area is also home to West Virginia University, which itself had more than 29,000 students last fall.

5. Redding, Calif.
> 5-year increase in violent crime rate: 53.8%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2007): 470.2
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2012): 723.4
> Murders per 100,000: 3.9

There were 1,298 violent crimes in the Redding metro area in 2012, up from 851 violent crimes in 2007. On a standardized, per 100,000 resident basis, violent crime rose more than 53% in that time. Additionally, property crimes rose by more than 50%, the most of any metro area reviewed, despite a nationwide 12.7% decline in such crimes during that time. According to the Redding Record Searchlight, some area residents believe that the area’s high crime rates may be related to marijuana cultivation. Officials in Shasta County — which makes up the Redding metro area — recently elected to ban outdoor growing, although the city of Redding is not included in the ban.

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4. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
> 5-year increase in violent crime rate: 65.3%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2007): 299.0
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2012): 494.2
> Murders per 100,000: 2.6

While the violent crime rate across the nation declined by 18% between 2007 and 2012, in the Hanford metro area it increased by more than 65%. In particular, incidents of rape increased by nearly 80% over that time, more than all but six other urban areas. Aggravated assaults had also increased by more than 80%in those five years. Because of the increase in violent crime, local officials have had trouble dealing with serious overcrowding issues in the local prisons. In 2012, law enforcement officials were forced to release prisoners early. They also complained they couldn’t properly discourage and deter criminals who knew of the prisons’ overcrowding problems.

3. Wheeling, W. Va.-Ohio
> 5-year increase in violent crime rate: 67.7%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2007): 172.6
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2012): 289.4
> Murders per 100,000: 0.0

Although the violent crime rate in the Wheeling metro area rose by more than nearly all other such areas between 2007 and 2012, the region is still relatively safe. There were zero murders in 2012, and less than 40 robberies per 100,000 residents, considerably less than the national rates of 112.9 robberies and 4.7 murders per 100,000 residents that year. Marshall and Ohio county, which are part of the Wheeling metro area, are both considered part of the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. A large scale law-enforcement operation investigating narcotic trafficking in 2012 resulted in numerous indictments of criminals distributing heroin, cocaine, and pain pills throughout the area.

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2. Columbus, Ind.
> 5-year increase in violent crime rate: 70.1%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2007): 101.6
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2012): 172.8
> Murders per 100,000: 1.3

There were just 76 violent crimes committed in Columbus in 2007, lower than in all but one other metro area where data was available. Although the violent crime rate remained relatively low when compared with most metro areas in 2012, the rate increased by more than 70% from 2007. Motor vehicle crime was up by nearly 50% in the area between 2007 and 2012, versus a 37% decline in auto theft nationwide. The area is also home to a number of major auto parts manufacturing operations, which are critical to the area’s economy.

1. Odessa, Texas
> 5-year increase in violent crime rate: 75.5%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2007): 468.1
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2012): 821.3
> Murders per 100,000: 3.5

There were 672.2 aggravated assaults per 100,000 residents in Odessa in 2012, an increase of more than 80% since 2007. Most property crimes, such as burglary and theft, became less likely over that time period, declining by 13.8% and 19.0%, respectively. On the other hand, motor theft, in particular, increased by 17% to more than 500 incidents in 2012. Many reported auto thefts, however, may have been illegitimate, according to an officer the Odessa Police Department. Some incidents, for example, may have been insurance fraud attempts, or drunk drivers abandoning their vehicle and claiming it was stolen. Some vehicles were being stripped for scrap metal, while others being taken merely for joyrides.

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