Detailed Findings & Methodology
Unlike more violent types of crime, the prevalence of property crime could actually indicate economic health, according to Roman. “Property crime goes where the goods are,” he said. So while high incidence of any crime is generally a negative sign, popular shopping centers, malls, and dense clusters of retail outlets can help explain a relatively high property crime rate. In such cases, Roman explained, “property crime goes up just because there are a lot of targets.”
The concentration of retail locations — the number of retail outlets per 100,000 people — exceeds the corresponding state concentration in 18 of the 50 cities on this list. Similarly, despite what high crime levels might suggest about a local economy, the unemployment rate in 18 of the 50 cities with the highest property crime rates in their states was under the national rate in December of 4.1%.
However, high property crime levels are still closely tied to widespread lack of economic opportunity. A run-down mall struggling to maintain its facilities will likely have fewer security measures in place and more would-be property offenders. Such locations are as good or better targets compared to a popular shopping center in an economically vibrant city. The poverty rate in 37 of the 50 cities on this list exceeds the national poverty rate of 15%.
Roman suggested that places hit especially hard by the national opioid epidemic, themselves frequently economically disadvantaged areas, may also see rising property crime rates as a consequence.
A number of the cities with high property crime rates are college towns. Roman gave several possible explanations to the pattern. ”College students tend to have above average wealth, including property worth stealing,” he wrote. “Young people are more likely than average to be victims of crime and to commit crimes in general, and the more of them there are in a place, the more risk there is.”
He added, “College age people are still not fully emotionally mature according to brain research and thus prone to risky behavior, including failure to take simple anti-crime prevention measures, locking doors, looking after their stuff, etc.”
Not unlike the typical college town, the cities where property crime is most prevalent tend to be small to mid-sized cities.
To identify the cities with the most property crime in every state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the number of property crimes reported per 100,000 people in cities with populations of 20,000 or more from the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report. Property crime includes burglaries, larceny-thefts, and motor vehicle theft. Population figures and state crime data also came from the FBI.
Poverty rates and Gini coefficients, which measure income inequality, came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Total retail outlets are tallies of sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, book stores, general merchandise stores, miscellaneous store retailers, and nonstore retailers as of 2015 from County Business Patterns, published by the U.S. Census Bureau.