Special Report

The Most Dangerous Cities in America

The number of violent crimes across the United States is estimated to have dropped by 4.4% in 2013 from the year before, according to data recently released by the FBI. In all, the number of such crimes declined by nearly 15% in the last 10 years.

Putting this drop into context, John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, told 24/7 Wall St.: “A 4.4% reduction in violent crime is astonishing. If you saw a similar increase in GDP, or a similar decrease in unemployment, it would be huge national news.”

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Despite the nation’s improving crime rates, a number of large U.S. cities are still especially dangerous. Nationwide, 368 violent crimes were reported for every 100,000 people in 2013. Such crimes include murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery. In America’s 10 most dangerous cities, there were more than 1,300 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Based on violent crime data published by the FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Report, these are America’s most dangerous cities.

In many of these cities, high murder rates are especially problematic. Three of these cities — Detroit, St. Louis, and Baltimore — had nation-leading murder rates of 45, 38, and 37 per 100,000 people, respectively, in 2013. In all, eight of the 10 cities with the highest violent crime rates were also among the 25 cities with the highest murder rates.

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In addition to high violent crime rates, these cities are characterized by remarkably high levels of property crime. There were 2,731 documented cases of property crime for every 100,000 Americans last year. Meanwhile, in six of America’s most dangerous large cities, there were well over 5,000 property crimes reported per 100,000 residents. Such crimes include motor vehicle theft and burglary.

Last year, in four of America’s most dangerous cities, there were more than 1,000 motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 people. By contrast, there were roughly 220 motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 people nationwide.

The problem in dangerous cities, according to Roman, is about “economic policy, it’s not about crime policy.” Roman noted a number of economic policies that, he said, have contributed to lower crime rates. The cities that “have been successful have promoted immigration, they’ve reduced economic segregation, and they’ve encouraged gentrification,” Roman said. “I think all three of those things are controversial. But I think the data suggests the results are overwhelming.”

The economies of a majority of the nation’s most dangerous cities have been struggling for some time. Median household income in eight of America’s most dangerous cities was more than $10,000 below the national median of $52,250 in 2013.

In addition to low incomes, these cities’ residents suffered from high poverty rates. More than one in five residents in all but two of the most dangerous cities lived in poverty last year, well above the national average. The poverty rates in Cleveland and Detroit were particularly high, at 36.9% and 40.7%, respectively, both nearly the highest among all cities reviewed.

Education is another factor related to crime rates. Less than 85% of adults had completed at least a high school diploma in all but one of these cities, versus the national rate of 86.6%. In Cleveland, just 78.2% of adults had completed at least high school. However, reducing poverty and improving education to help fight crime can be challenging in many cities. There are “structural disadvantages in that crime is such a cultural norm that it’s hard to fix,” Roman said.

The FBI has attempted to discourage direct comparisons of crime rates between cities because local factors cause reporting to vary considerably between cities. Despite this characterization, Roman suggested that some comparison can be useful. “To me it’s analogous to saying we shouldn’t rank how well schools are doing. How are you ever supposed to help the lowest-performing schools if you don’t tell them they’re the lowest-performing school?”

To identify the most dangerous cities in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed violent crime rates among the nation’s cities with populations of 100,000 or more from the FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Report. Property crime rates also came from the FBI’s report. The data were broken into eight types of crime. Violent crime was comprised of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault; and, property crime was was made up of burglary, arson, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. In addition to crime data, we also reviewed median household income, poverty rates, and educational attainment rates from the 2013 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

These are the most dangerous cities in America.

10. Birmingham, Ala.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,345
> Population: 212,001
> 2013 murders: 63 (25th highest)
> Poverty rate: 30.7% (18th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 84.0% (105th lowest)

More than 1,300 violent crimes per 100,000 residents were reported in Birmingham in 2013, the 10th highest rate in the country. Still, this was an improvement from 2012, when more than 1,500 violent crimes per 100,000 residents were reported. In 2013, aggravated assault accounted for more than half of the violent crimes in Birmingham. The city’s poor socioeconomic climate may explain the high crime rates. The city’s poverty rate was 30.7% in 2013, nearly twice the national rate of 15.8%. Additionally, median household income was just $31,152 in 2013, or more than $20,000 less than national median. Low incomes, in turn, may be connected to low levels of education. Just 25.9% of Birmingham residents had at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, well below the national rate of 29.6%.

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9. Milwaukee, Wis.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,364
> Population: 600,805
> 2013 murders: 104 (15th highest)
> Poverty rate: 29.0% (29th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 81.8% (tied-73rd lowest)

Violent crime in Milwaukee has been on the rise in recent years, with the number of reported incidents rising from 1,045 per 100,000 residents in 2010 to 1,364 per 100,000 residents in 2013. However, an increase in the number of reported crimes may not mean that Milwaukee has gotten more dangerous. A 2012 report by the Journal Sentinel, a local Wisconsin newspaper, found that police in Milwaukee had misreported thousands of crimes in prior years, which led to lower crime rates. Further, while Milwaukee reported a large number of violent crimes, its property crime rate was comparatively low, ranking just 83rd among cities with at least 100,000 residents.

8. Rockford, Ill.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,375
> Population: 150,209
> 2013 murders: 19 (82nd highest)
> Poverty rate: 23.2% (74th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 83.6% (95th lowest)

Rockford was one of only three cities where the aggravated assault rate exceeded 1,000 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2013. The city’s murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rate was 13 per 100,000, much lower than in many other dangerous cities, but still close to three times the national murder rate of 4.5 per 100,000 residents. Property crimes, too, were slightly less prevalent than in other dangerous cities. There were just 248 motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 Rockford residents last year, slightly higher than the national rate, but exceptionally low compared to other large cities with high violent crime rates. Yet, arson was quite common, with 71 incidents per 100,000 in 2013, more than in all but four other cities.

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7. Baltimore, Maryland
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,401
> Population: 622,671
> 2013 murders: 233 (6th highest)
> Poverty rate: 23.3% (73rd highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 81.8% (tied-73rd lowest)

The number of violent crimes in Baltimore fell from 9,316 in 2010 to 8,725 last year, coinciding with the nationwide decline in violent crimes in recent years. However, Baltimore is still among the most dangerous cities. There were just 4.5 murders per 100,000 people in the United States last year. In Baltimore, the murder rate was 37 per 100,000 residents, higher than in all but four other large U.S. cities. Robberies were a major contributor to the area’s violent crime statistics, as 600 incidents were reported per 100,000 residents, versus a national robbery rate of less than 110 per 100,000 residents last year.

6. Little Rock, Ark.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,407
> Population: 197,399
> 2013 murders: 35 (49th highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.7% (131st lowest)
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 89.9% (80th highest)

Little Rock not only had one of the highest violent crime rates in the nation in 2013, it also had one of the country’s worst property crime rate. Last year, more than 1,400 violent crimes and over 7,800 property crimes were reported for every 100,000 residents. By comparison, nationwide there were 368 and 2,731 such crimes per 100,000 people, respectively. Yet, Little Rock’s crime rate has improved slightly since 2010, when when more than 1,500 violent crimes were reported for every 100,000 people. Prison overcrowding remains a major issue for Pulaski County, which includes Little Rock. Police have claimed that preventing repeat offenders from being detained for long enough periods of time may be exacerbating the local crime problem.

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5. Cleveland, Ohio
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,478
> Population: 389,181
> 2013 murders: 55 (29th highest)
> Poverty rate: 36.9% (3rd highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 78.2% (44th lowest)

Low educational attainment and poverty rates among Cleveland residents may explain, in part, the area’s high violent crime rate. Just 78.2% of area adults had completed high school and 16.5% had at least a bachelor’s degree as of last year, both among the lower figures nationwide. Also, Cleveland’s median household income of $26,096 was lower than that of every other large U.S. city except for Detroit. Robberies accounted for the bulk of Cleveland’s violent crime rate, with 897 reported per 100,000 last year, second only to Oakland. The burglary rate was even higher. More than 2,100 burglaries — thefts occurring without the victim present — were documented per 100,000 area residents last year, the second highest rate in the country and more than three times the national rate of 610.

4. St. Louis, Mo.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,594
> Population: 318,563
> 2013 murders: 120 (12th highest)
> Poverty rate: 26.6% (44th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 83.3% (91st lowest)

More than 5,000 violent crime were reported in St. Louis last year, or nearly 1,600 per 100,000 people. Still, much like the rest of the nation, violent crime in St. Louis has dropped in recent years. In 2010, more than 6,200 violent incidents were reported in the city, or 1,747 per 100,000 residents. Despite this improvement, St. Louis still struggles with tragic levels of certain serious crimes. A total of 120 murders were reported in St. Louis last year, or 38 per 100,000 people, among the worst rates for any large U.S. city. Additionally, according to local news reports, there were considerably more murders this year through October than during the same period in 2013.

3. Memphis, Tenn.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,656
> Population: 657,691
> 2013 murders: 124 (11th highest)
> Poverty rate: 27.7% (35th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 82.5% (82nd lowest)

There were 7,200 aggravated assaults reported in Memphis last year. This was one of the largest figures among U.S. cities and a major contributor to Memphis’ high violent crime rate of 1,656 per 100,000 residents. In addition to a high violent crime rate, Memphis also suffers from high levels of property crimes, which totalled nearly 40,000. There were 366 arsons in 2013, for example, more than in all but five other large U.S. cities. Like residents in a majority of the country’s most dangerous cities, Memphis residents are far more likely to live in poverty than most Americans. The area’s poverty rate of nearly 28% in 2013 was among the highest rates nationwide.

2. Oakland, Calif.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,977
> Population: 403,887
> 2013 murders: 90 (20th highest)
> Poverty rate: 19.5% (135th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 80.9% (62nd lowest)

Oakland has historically suffered from high crime and last year was no exception. Oakland reported nearly 2,000 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2013. Moreover, the city reported 1,219 robberies per 100,000 residents, the most of any large American city. In addition to violent crime, property crime was also quite high in the city, at over 6,200 such incidents per 100,000 residents last year. By comparison, the national rate was 2,731 per 100,000 residents. However, despite its high levels of crime, Oakland is rapidly gentrifying. Gentrification may contribute to lower violent crime rates in the long run, according to the Urban Institute’s John Roman.

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1. Detroit, Mich.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 2,072
> Population: 699,889
> 2013 murders: 316 (3rd highest)
> Poverty rate: 40.7% (the highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school degree: 78.6% (46th lowest)

Detroit’s violent crime rate of 2,072 per 100,000 residents was the highest in the nation last year. This is despite the fact that the violent crime rate fell from 2,123 incidents per 100,000 people in 2012. Further, there were a total of more than 300 murders in Detroit last year, also among the worst figures nationwide. Like many other dangerous cities, Detroit residents are quite poor. A typical household earned less than $25,000 in 2013, and nearly 41% of people lived in poverty, both the worst figures among large U.S. cities. The region’s history of high crime rates may have encouraged residents over the years to take their protection into their own hands. Like in several other Michigan counties, residents of Wayne County, where Detroit is located, are more likely to have concealed gun permits than residents in the vast majority of populous areas. The number of applications for permits has risen dramatically in recent years.

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