Detailed Findings & Methodology
Many of the metropolitan areas with the largest increases in violent crime are smaller places that had relatively low violent crime rates. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., John Roman, a senior fellow with the non-partisan research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, said that these metropolitan areas are the kinds of places where the largest increases might be expected. “When you have a relatively small city like that, small changes in violence can cause huge percentage increases,” he explained.
Roman added that several factors can cause major short-term changes in violent crime in metropolitan areas. These can include “disputes between relatively small numbers of people that lead to a lot of violence for a city of that size,” he said. “It could be a gang dispute, it could be a drug trafficking dispute, it could be some sort of other organized criminal enterprise where people are fighting over territory or products. Or it could just simply be bad luck. Even relatively safe cities will have a really bad year.”
While short-term increases in violent crime are likely best explained by the actions of a small group of actors or by anomaly, long-term increases and sustained high violent crime rates are often best explained by key social and economic indicators — in particular education and employment.
“If you look at who is in prison and in jails, it tends to be people who drop out some time during high school. Overall, the more school you complete, the less likely you are to commit a crime,” Roman said. Reviewing all metropolitan areas, those places with lower educational attainment tend to have higher violent crime rates.
Even short-term changes in education levels of a population may have an impact. Among the metropolitan areas that can be compared over five years, Hot Springs, Arkansas had the biggest decline in the share of the population with a bachelor’s degree. Hot Springs also had a 27.1% increase in violent crime over that time — the largest in Arkansas and one of the largest of any U.S. metro area.
Based on figures published by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the metropolitan statistical area where crime rates rose the most in each state from 2011 to 2016, the most recent available year of data. 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. A number of states had no metropolitan areas that met these criteria. These states were Alabama, Hawaii, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. In addition, four states — Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Nebraska — had no metropolitan area where the violent crime rate increased between 2011 and 2016. In these cases, we listed the state values. Additionally, we reviewed annual unemployment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2011 and 2016, as well as unemployment figures from December 2017. We also considered data from the Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey on household income, educational attainment rates, and poverty.