Special Report

Cities Where Crime Is Plummeting

The United States is becoming safer, with crime levels dropping nearly every year, recently. Between 1991 and 2013, the U.S. violent crime rate has fallen by nearly 52%. Since 2009, the nation’s violent crime rate has declined from 429.4 incidents per 100,000 people to 367.9 incidents per 100,000 people, a decrease of 14.3%.

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 fallen at an especially fast pace. In Dubuque, Iowa, the violent crime rate fell by nearly 60% — from 387.2 cases per 100,000 people in 2009 to 159.8 cases per 100,000 people in 2013. Based on figures published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), these are the metropolitan areas with the greatest declines in the violent crime rate.

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While a metropolitan area’s plummeting violent crime rate does not necessarily mean it is also among the safest areas in the nation, most of these areas were indeed among the safest U.S. regions. Nine of the 10 metro areas had violent crime rates far below the national rate in 2013. The Florence, South Carolina metro area was the exception, with 475 violent crimes reported per 100,000 people in 2013, one of the highest rates.

John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, explained that crime rates in the United States have fluctuated dramatically for decades. Crime increased in the 1960s and 1970s, for example, and then declined everywhere in the 1990s until it became stable. “About midway through the last decade, [however], crime started to decline again, only this time, it declined in some places, but not in others,” Roman said. The question is why crime rates decline in some areas but not in others.

The area’s economy and economic segregation account in part for the diversity in crime levels. For example, most of the metropolitan areas with plummeting crime rates also had relatively low unemployment rates. Seven of the 10 areas had lower unemployment rates than the national rate of 7.4% in 2013. However, none of these places were especially wealthy. In fact, the median household income exceeded the national figure of $52,250 in 2013 in only Racine, Wisconsin.

According to Roman, how well a metro area attracts young residents — who may not have had time to earn large incomes — is more important than high incomes in some cases. “Places that bring new people to a city tend to experience the biggest crime declines,” Roman said. And while “the biggest predictor of crime is having lots of young men in dense proximation,” many of the places with plummeting crime rates happen to be college towns, which attract high concentrations of young people. A university encourages growth and innovation, for example. And increasingly, universities promote integration with the community, which has a positive overall effect on a town. Nine of the metropolitan areas where crime is plummeting were home to at least one university.

An area’s policing and reporting strategy is yet another factor that can have a profound effect on the likelihood of crime. According to Roman, police departments need to be “working with the community and not just policing it.” This means implementing policies that work towards a “less segregated and more integrated [community] with more opportunities for more people,” Roman said. In addition, taking the stance of security can actually worsen an area’s crime problem. “If you treat your citizens as citizens rather than just subjects, over time that approach alone will cause violence to decline.”

Based on figures published by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, 24/7 Wall St. determined the 10 metropolitan statistical areas where crime rates declined the most between 2009 and 2013. In order to be considered, areas had to retain the same geographic boundaries during the period covered, and they had to retain consistent reporting practices. We reviewed annual unemployment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for 2009 and 2013. Lastly, we considered household income, educational attainment rates, and poverty from the Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey.

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

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