Special Report

The Most Dangerous Cities in America

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Over 400 violent crimes per 100,000 residents were reported in the United States in 2010. The rate has fallen every year since to a four-year low of 366 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2014.

Though the decline in violent crime nationwide has made the country safer, a number of American cities are still especially dangerous. By examining the incidence of violent crime in the nation’s largest cities, 24/7 Wall St. identified the most dangerous cities in America.

Violent crimes include murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery. In each of America’s 10 most dangerous cities, there were at least 1,300 violent crimes per 100,000 residents — more than triple the national violent crime rate of 366 incidents per 100,000 residents.

Click here to see the most dangerous cities in America.

Click here to see the safest cities in America.

The nation’s largest cities each employ thousands of often-well-equipped police officers. Nearly 50,000 police work in New York City. According to John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a social policy research think tank, effective policing can help reduce crime, but “it doesn’t move the dial an enormous amount.” For Roman, poor social and economic conditions are the drivers of crime and significant change comes by creating the conditions for economic opportunity.

For example, nine of the country’s 10 most dangerous cities had a smaller share of adults with a high school diploma than the national share. Similarly, unemployment rates exceeded the national average in all 10 of the country’s most dangerous cities. In Stockton, California, the 10th most dangerous city in the U.S., the unemployment rate of 11.5% nearly doubled the national unemployment rate of 6.2%.

“When you have cities where the schools aren’t good [and] the job prospects are bad, you almost always tend to have greater crime,” Roman said.

In addition to low educational attainment and high unemployment, poverty is pervasive in the country’s most dangerous cities. All 10 of the country’s most dangerous cities, the poverty rate exceeded the national rate of 15.5%. In Detroit, the nation’s most dangerous city, 39.3% of residents lived below the poverty line last year.

According to Roman, “It’s a classic tale of disadvantage. When you have people who don’t have a lot of opportunity, they tend to gravitate towards crime in ways that people with more opportunity don’t.”

The FBI crime figures provide data only on reported crimes. As Roman explained, crime is underreported everywhere. Cultural differences between cities largely determine how crime is reported. “The relationship between the citizenry and the police,” Roman said, “matters a lot in terms of how much crime gets reported.” In some cities, “where citizens don’t view the police as legitimate,” crimes are much less likely to be reported.

Still, Roman suggested that comparison in violent crime trends is useful. Since reporting of homicides and violent crimes tends not to change, ”you get the same kind of rate of reporting every year, so the trend is actually meaningful.”

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 2014 Uniform Crime Report. Property crime rates also came from the FBI’s report. The data were broken into eight types of crime. Violent crime comprises murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Property crime consists 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 2014 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey as well as unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These are the nation’s most dangerous cities.

10. Stockton, California
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> 2014 murders: 49
> Population: 299,519
> Poverty rate: 28.1%

While Stockton was not among the 10 most violent cities in 2013, violent crime rates increased in 2014 to place the metro area among the 10 most dangerous U.S. cities. Stockton is one of two California cities to make the 10 most violent cities, along with Oakland. Though 33 American cities had more murders than Stockton, after adjusting for population, Stockton’s murder rate was the 27th highest in the nation. According to the FBI, aggravated assault is the unlawful attack of one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe bodily injury. In 2014, there were about 904 incidences of aggravated assault per 100,000 residents in Stockton, the sixth highest aggravated assault rate in the country.

Located about an hour and a half inland from San Francisco, where the median household income exceeded $85,000 in 2014, the typical Stockton household earned less than $41,000 last year. There is a strong relationship between violent crime and unemployment rates, likely at least in part because those without opportunities are more likely to resort to violent or desperate measures. Stockton had an unemployment rate of 11.5%, the fifth-highest rate of any major city in the nation.

ALSO READ: The Most Dangerous States in America

9. Cleveland, Ohio
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> 2014 murders: 63
> Population: 388,655
> Poverty rate: 39.2%

Although most cities with high violent crime rates tended to struggle with high poverty and low income, Cleveland struggled more than even the most violent cities. Cleveland’s median annual household income of just $24,701 was the lowest of any major U.S. city and roughly $29,000 less than the national median. Its poverty rate of 39.2% was the third highest among major U.S. cities. While Cleveland had the ninth highest violent crime rate in the country in 2014, the rate of 1,334 per 100,000 residents was an improvement by about 150 reported crimes per 100,000 in 2013, when it had the fifth-highest violent crime rate. Cleveland had a higher rate of robberies per capita than any major city other than Oakland, California, as well as the fifth most cases of rape per capita.

8. Baltimore, Maryland
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> 2014 murders: 211
> Population: 623,513
> Poverty rate: 23.6%

There were 211 homicides in Baltimore in 2014, the seventh-most murders in the country of any city last year. Among the cities with the highest violent crime rates, only Detroit had more murders. Like most dangerous cities in the country, Baltimore had a relatively high poverty rate and a low median household income. The typical Baltimore household made $42,665 last year, about $11,000 less than the national median household income of $53,657. Furthermore, the share of Baltimore residents living in poverty was over 8 percentage points higher than the national poverty rate of 15.5%.

7. Little Rock, Arkansas
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> 2014 murders: 43
> Population: 198,217
> Poverty rate: 16.6%

Little Rock is the smallest of the most dangerous cities in the country. Though 39 American cities had more murders than Little Rock, after adjusting for population, the Arkansas capital’s murder rate was the 12th highest in the nation.

Unlike nearly all of America’s most dangerous cities, education attainment rates in Little Rock far exceeded the national average rate. A little more than 40% of Little Rock adults had at least a bachelor’s degree, 10 percentage points higher than the corresponding national attainment rate of 30.1%. Similarly, 91.8% of adults in Little Rock had at least a high school diploma, a significantly higher share than the 86.9% of Americans. The higher educational attainment rates alone, however, were not enough to curb crime, and the city reported 1,392 violent crimes per 100,000 residents last year — the seventh highest rate of all major U.S. cities.

ALSO READ: America’s 50 Best Cities to Live

6. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> 2014 murders: 90
> Population: 600,374
> Poverty rate: 29.0%

Milwaukee, which was the ninth most dangerous city in 2013, ranked sixth most dangerous in 2014 as nearly 700 additional incidents of violent crime were reported last year. The city’s violent crime rate, the sixth highest in the nation, included 90 murders and 395 reported rapes.

High crime rates are often associated with socio-economic problems, and Milwaukee, one of the poorest cities in the country, exemplifies this relationship. At $35,049, the median household income in Milwaukee was roughly $19,000 less than the national median last year. Similarly, Milwaukee’s poverty rate of 29% was nearly double the national poverty rate of 15.5%.

5. Birmingham, Alabama
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> 2014 murders: 52
> Population: 212,115
> Poverty rate: 30.5%

There were 52 murders in Birmingham in 2014. Adjusting for population, Alabama’s largest city had the seventh highest murder rate in the country. Birmingham also ranked among the 10 worst cities in the country for robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and arson. Overall, with 1,588 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, Birmingham is the fifth most dangerous city in the country.

As is typical in cities with high violent crime rates, the typical household income in Birmingham is low. Only seven of the 286 metropolitan areas examined had a median household income lower than Birmingham’s $30,043. Additionally, the city’s poverty rate of 30.5% was among the worst in the country and nearly double the national poverty rate of 15.5%.

ALSO READ: States With the Best and Worst School Systems

4. St. Louis, Missouri
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> 2014 murders: 159
> Population: 318,574
> Poverty rate: 28.5%

St. Louis had the most murder cases per 100,000 residents of any major city in America. With about 50 reported murders per 100,000 residents, the murder rate in St. Louis was nearly 10 times the national figure. Also, with about 1,051 instances of aggravated assault per 100,000 residents reported last year, the only major cities with more assault cases than St. Louis were Detroit and Memphis. While the violent crime rate decreased nationally from 2013 to 2014, the rate in St. Louis increased by about 85 cases per 100,000 residents. Most areas with high crime rates also tend to have high poverty rates, and with 28.5% of its residents living in poverty last year — 13 percentage points higher than the national poverty rate — St. Louis was not only the fourth most dangerous city, but also one of most impoverished urban areas in the nation.

3. Oakland, California
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> 2014 murders: 80
> Population: 409,994
> Poverty rate: 20.1%

Oakland is the only city with high crime rates where a typical household earned more than the typical American household last year, at $56,188 versus $53,657, respectively. In addition, 39.3% of Oakland adults had a bachelor’s degree — also higher than the comparable national education attainment rate of 30.1%. Despite having a higher income than the national median and a relatively educated population, Oakland suffers from a serious crime problem. It had the the highest robbery rate of any large city in the nation, at 849 per 100,000 residents. It had almost double that in motor vehicle thefts — 1,590 per 100,000 residents — also the highest in the nation. Despite having the third highest violent crime rate, the number of reported crimes dropped by about 291 per 100,000 residents, the largest decrease of any major city.

ALSO READ: The 10 Most Livable Cities

2. Memphis, Tennessee
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> 2014 murders: 140
> Population: 654,922
> Poverty rate: 29.8%

Located along the banks of the Mississippi River in southwest Tennessee, Memphis is home to over half a million people. It is also the second most dangerous city in America. There were 140 homicides and 501 reported rapes in Memphis last year alone.

With 29.8% of residents living in poverty, Memphis’s poverty rate was nearly double the national rate of 15.5%. Similarly, median household income in the city was well below the national median. The typical household in Memphis brought in $34,704 last year, nearly $20,000 less than typical American household. Memphis also had one the higher unemployment rates of any large city in the nation. At 8.7%, it was 2.5 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate of 6.2%.

1. Detroit, Michigan
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> 2014 murders: 298
> Population: 684,694
> Poverty rate: 39.3%

Despite crime dropping in the city for three consecutive years, Detroit remains the most dangerous city in America. As is the case with most cities with high crime rates, Detroit’s poverty rate and income levels were among the worst in the country. A typical Detroit household made $25,769 in 2014, second lowest in the country and less than half of what the typical American household made. Similarly, its poverty rate of 39.3% was the second highest in the county well more than double the national poverty rate of 15.5%.

A total of 298 murders were reported in Detroit last year. The only cities with more murder cases were Chicago and New York, whose populations were about four and 12 times larger than Detroit’s, respectively. The Motor City also led the nation in aggravated assaults, with 1,342.4 incidents reported per 100,000 residents — nearly six times the national rate. A city’s crime rate typically increases as its population declines, as residents who can leave undesirable conditions do so. Between 2010 and 2012, Detroit’s violent crime rate decreased even as its population continued to decline — making the drop in crime rate all the more significant.

Click here to see the safest cities in America.

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