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.
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.
10. Racine, WI
> 5-year change in violent crime rate: -38.3%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2009): 294.6
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2013): 181.8
> Murders per 100,000 (2013): 2.0
The violent crime rate in the Racine metro area fell 38.3% between 2009 and 2013, the 10th largest decrease in the country. The area’s falling violent crime rate was largely driven by a lower aggravated assault rate, which decreased from 138.6 per 100,000 people in 2009 to 64.7 per 100,000 people in 2013. Aggravated assaults accounted for only 35.5% of all violent crimes in 2013, down from 47% in 2009. While an area’s violent crime rate may fall as local economies improve, this was not the case in Racine. The unemployment rate of 8.6% in 2013 was not only far worse than the national rate, but its improvement since 2009 was due almost entirely to a shrinking labor force. The labor force contracted by 2.2% over that period, more than the reduction in the area’s unemployment rate.
9. Florence, SC
> 5-year change in violent crime rate: -38.5%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2009): 772.4
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2013): 475.0
> Murders per 100,000 (2013): 11.0
The Florence area has long been among the 10 worst metro areas for violent crime, likely perpetuated by gang violence. Between 2009 and 2013, however, the violent crime rate dropped by nearly 39% to 475 per 100,000 residents. The violent crime rate was still higher than the national rate of 367.9 violent crimes per 100,000 Americans, however. Many attribute falling crime rates to new police programs aimed at patrolling traditionally dangerous areas more heavily. As of 2013, the Florence metro area had a median household income of less than $40,000 and the poverty rate was nearly 23%. These were both far worse than the respective national figures of $52,250, and 15.8%.
8. Wausau, WI
> 5-year change in violent crime rate: -40.5%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2009): 156.7
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2013): 93.3
> Murders per 100,000 (2013): 2.0
The violent crime rate in the Wausau metro area fell by more than 40% between 2009 and 2013, the eighth largest decrease nationwide. Cities with falling crime rates were not necessarily safer compared to other metro areas. In Wausau, however, less than 95 violent crimes were reported per 100,000 residents in 2013, one of the lowest rate in the country. By contrast, there were 368 violent crimes per 100,000 people nationwide in 2013. Some violent crimes were especially scarce. There were less than 13 reports of rape in Wausau per 100,000 residents, for example, roughly half the national rate. While violent crime has fallen substantially, prostitution has been cited as a major issue for the area in recent years. Wausau recently proposed an ordinance requiring licenses for escort services, regulations already in place in nearby Weston and Schofield. The new law would allow law enforcement to crackdown on prostitution in the city.
7. Hinesville-Fort Stewart, GA
> 5-year change in violent crime rate: -40.8%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2009): 467.9
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2013): 277.2
> Murders per 100,000 (2013): 5.0
Economic prosperity often helps lower crime rates. A typical household In the Hinesville metro area, however, earned $40,559 in 2013, one of the lowest median household incomes compared to other U.S. metro areas. Also, more than one in five area residents lived in poverty in 2013, among the higher poverty rates nationwide. Yet, Hinesville had a violent crime rate of 277.2 per 100,000 people in 2013, down nearly 41% from 2009 and one of the lower rates in the country. This was a drastic change compared to 2009, when the violent crime rate of 467.9 incidents per 100,000 people was among the higher rates. In addition, property crimes fell by nearly 29% over that period, also one of the largest such decreases in the nation.
6. Ames, IA
> 5-year change in violent crime rate: -41.6%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2009): 260.9
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2013): 152.3
> Murders per 100,000 (2013): 0.0
Like several other cities with falling violent crime rates, Ames residents were well-educated and benefited from a strong job market. More than 95% of adults had at least a high school diploma in 2013, and 48.2% had at least a bachelor’s degree, both among the highest rates nationwide. Also, just 3.5% of the area’s workforce was unemployed that year, less than half the national rate of 7.4%. Residents were also relatively safe, with a violent crime rate of 152.3 per 100,000 people, down nearly 42% from 2009.While this one of the lower violent crime rates among large U.S. cities, the incidence of rape was more than twice the national rate in 2013, at 52.2 per 100,000 residents.
5. Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville, SC
> 5-year change in violent crime rate: -41.7%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2009): 616.3
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2013): 359.4
> Murders per 100,000 (2013): 51.0
The reported violent crime rate in the Charleston metro area fell by 41.7% between 2009 and 2013, from 616.3 per 100,000 residents to 359.4 per 100,000 residents. The area’s falling violent crime rate was largely driven by lower robbery and aggravated assault rates — among the most commonly committed crimes — which fell 55.7% and 39.4%, respectively. Reasons for the sharp decline in crime may be due in part to a falling unemployment rate. Between 2009 and 2013, the unemployment rate fell from 9.5% to 6.3%, even as the labor force grew by 5.5%, indicating that the area’s economy has made a strong recovery from the recession. However, violence is still a substantial problem in the Charleston metro area. At 7.2 murders per 100,000 residents, the area had one of the highest murder rates in the country in 2013.
4. Lexington-Fayette, KY
> 5-year change in violent crime rate: -41.7%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2009): 440.3
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2013): 256.7
> Murders per 100,000 (2013): 24.0
Unlike other regions with falling crime rates, property crimes in the Lexington metro area increased by nearly 10% between 2009 and 2013. By contrast, the property crime rate fell by 10.1% across the nation over that period. Larceny was especially common in 2013, with 2,735 personal thefts reported per 100,000 area residents, one of the highest rates. However, Lexington’s violent crime rate has fallen dramatically from 440.3 incidents per 100,000 people in 2009, which was far higher than the national rate at that time, to 256.7 per 100,000 people in 2013, one of the lower rates.
3. Manhattan, KS
> 5-year change in violent crime rate: -44.2%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2009): 346.3
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2013): 193.3
> Murders per 100,000 (2013): 6.0
Nearly 96% of Manhattan area residents had a high school diploma in 2013, the highest rate in the country. Such a high educational attainment rate was due to Manhattan being home to Kansas State University. The university and the area’s local school district together accounted for more than a third of total employment in the Manhattan metro area in 2013, more than any other employer. The stability from these large public employers may have helped keep the unemployment rate below 5.5% between 2009 and 2013. In 2012, the Manhattan area police department started a new Laser Point program to target traditionally crime-ridden neighborhoods. The program is largely credited for part of the 44.2% decline in Manhattan’s violent crime rate.
2. Idaho Falls, ID
> 5-year change in violent crime rate: -46.1%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2009): 294.3
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2013): 158.5
> Murders per 100,000 (2013): 3.0
As in many other U.S. metropolitan areas, the Idaho Falls police department has recently formed partnerships with crime mapping and communication groups intended to reduce crime. Access to local crime statistics and mapping tools such as these may account in part for the dramatic drop in violent crime in the Idaho Falls metro area. There were nearly 300 violent crimes reported per 100,000 people in 2009. By 2013, that rate had fallen by more than 46% to 158.5 per 100,000 people, one of the lower rates nationwide. Idaho Falls residents also had the benefit of a strong job market. In 2013, 5.3% of the area workforce was unemployed versus the national rate of 7.4%. The relative availability of jobs may also have helped lower the area’s poverty rate, which was 11.2% in 2013, one of the lower rates reviewed and considerably lower than the national rate of 15.8%.
1. Dubuque, IA
> 5-year change in violent crime rate: -58.7%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2009): 387.2
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2013): 159.8
> Murders per 100,000 (2013): 0.0
No metropolitan area reviewed had a greater drop in violent crime than Dubuque, Iowa. Less than 160 violent crimes were reported per 100,000 residents in 2013, down nearly 60% from 2009 when more than 387 crimes were reported per 100,000 people. Like only a handful of U.S. metropolitan areas, there were zero murders in Dubuque in 2013. Other crimes were similarly infrequent. Dubuque had an aggravated assault rate of just 104 per 100,000 people, for example, less than half the national rate of 229 per 100,000 Americans in 2013. The job market was also exceptionally strong that year, with an unemployment rate of just 4.5%. By contrast, 7.4% of the nation’s workforce was unemployed.
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