This list may surprise you! If you expected to see major cities like New York or Los Angeles on the list, you won’t find them here as they don’t even break into the top 90. Even Gainesville, Florida, and South Bend, Indiana, are more dangerous than NYC. Using aggregated rates of violent crime, murders, robberies, forcible rapes, and aggravated assaults from the FBI’s 2013 UCR (Uniform Crime Report), we have compiled a list of some cities where you really need to watch your back. Is your city on the list? Find out in this ranking of the 25 most dangerous cities in America.
Coming in at #25 on our list of the most dangerous cities in America is Lansing, Michigan. State capitols are often larger cities (and thus rougher places) and Lansing is no exception. Though the city experienced the lowest murder rate on our list at 7.02 per 100,000 people (from here on referred to as 100k), it had the second highest rate of forcible rape at 111.5 per 100k.
Paterson, New Jersey
Few outside of the NYC metropolitan area may have heard of Paterson, New Jersey, but this city is the second densest of any big U.S. city (after NYC). Paterson experienced 1,072 violent crimes per 100k and broke into the top 10 for robberies with almost 600 per 100k.
Springfield, Massachusetts, doesn’t stand out on our list as particularly high on any of the specific measures but is pretty dangerous across the board. Basketball was invented in Springfield, also the home of Milton Bradley (the board game creator) and birthplace of NFL Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti. Its importance as a city hasn’t mitigated aggravated assaults at 628 per 100k in 2013.
Most people know Philadelphia is one of America’s most dangerous cities which is why you might be surprised to find it so low in the list. The City of Brotherly Love and cheesesteaks has seen improved statistics in recent years – its 247 murders in 2013 showed a 25% drop from 2012 and a 44% drop from 2007.
Less popular than The Simpsons’s Springfield, this Missouri city has a rough past. Beyond its reputation as the “Birthplace of Route 66”, Springfield was the scene of one of the best known Wild West duels between Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt in 1865 and the lynching of three innocent black men (Horace Duncan, Fred Coker, and Will Allen) in 1906 (leading most African-Americans to leave the city). Its rough history has stuck around: Springfield had the highest amount of forcible rapes on our list in 2013 at 172.33 per 100k.
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The primary residence of writer Mark Twain, Hartford, Connecticut, is nicknamed the “Insurance Capital of the World” due to the high amount of insurance company headquarters in the area. However, insurance hasn’t protected Hartford from danger. The richest American city in the late 1800’s, Hartford is now one of the poorest: over 30% of families live below the poverty line and the city experienced 18.41 murders per 100k.
Fictional cocaine cowboys like Tony Montana made Miami famous but the real cowboys and other less-than-honest residents have kept it dangerous. The “Capital of Latin America”, Miami’s downtown hosts the largest concentration of international banks in the United States. Despite being a financial and leisure powerhouse, Miami is easily one of the most dangerous cities in America with 2,216 robberies in 2013 alone.
Ranking 6th in aggravated assaults per 100k on our list, Stockton, California, has actually been improving in the past few years. In 2013 alone, Stockton’s murder rate declined 45% from 71 in 2012 to 37. Stockton’s police chief credits the improvement to implementation of Project Ceasefire: a policing initiative focused on youth gun violence being implemented across the United States.
With 479 murders in 1991, Washington, D.C. was referred to as the murder capital of America. Despite its rough past, the city has greatly improved, recording only 103 murders in 2013. Robberies have been increasing due to rising incomes in the area but crime is still quite concentrated: 5% of the city recorded 25% of its crime.
The ATL still has a reputation for violent crime, but this Georgian city has really cleaned up its act in recent years. Home to the world’s busiest airport since 1998, Atlanta has crime rates above the national median including 524 robberies per 100k and 657 aggravated assaults per 100k. Despite these levels, the first decade of the 21st century saw Atlanta’s pubic safety increase at more than double the U.S. rate and forcible rapes decrease considerably.
Home to the largest single-day sporting event in the world (the Indy 500), Indianapolis is a city in trouble: its murder rate (many times the national average) has been increasing over the past five years, even jumping from 129 in 2013 to 148 in 2014.
New Haven, Connecticut
Hosting the prestigious Yale University hasn’t helped New Haven’s crime statistics (which goes to show how complicated an issue crime is). Ranking in the top 10 for violent crime in the 1990’s, New Haven implemented community policing (aka neighbourhood watches) in the following decade which greatly reduced its rates of violent crime.
Buffalo, New York
One of the most successful American cities in 1900 due to its position as a railroad hub, Buffalo declined as the St. Lawrence Seaway was opened to shipping from the Great Lakes. With 3,249 violent crimes in 2013, Buffalo also had a sex offender ratio of 1:448 in 2013.
Kansas City, Missouri
Famous for jazz, blues, and finger-lickin-good barbecue, Kansas City’s dangerous reputation dates back to violence during the Civil War. Fast-forward to the 20th century and mobsters control the city and crime runs rampant. But the city is getting better! Police investigations ended the mob’s control of the Stardust Casino in Las Vegas (famously portrayed in the movie Casino), the downtown area has been cleaned up, and Kansas City now sees the 4th lowest rate of robberies on our list.
Newark, New Jersey
Boasting one of NYC’s big three airports, Newark, New Jersey, is also the largest shipping terminal on the East Coast and one of the most dangerous cities in America. (Time magazine ranked it as the Most Dangerous in 1996.) Though it had the lowest number of aggravated assaults on our list at 332.8 per 100k, it experienced the second highest murder rate at 40.25 per 100k. Crime has been increasing in the area with carjackings taking center stage and murders also on the rise.
Hosting collegiate sporting’s SEC (Southeastern Conference), Birmingham boasts many universities but, just like New Haven, has a major crime problem. Murder and aggravated assault are some of the city’s most pressing problems. Television network A&E has often used Birmingham’s homicide detectives during filming.
An influx of German immigrants made Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one of America’s leaders in beer production – the city even sported a pub per 40 residents in 1843. Milwaukee has appeared on the top ten list for many years, especially because of its trouble with aggravated assault: its 4,405 aggravated assaults in 2013 made up almost half of its violent crime.
The third largest city in Illinois, Rockford has a low robbery and murder rate but a massive aggravated assault rate: third highest on our list with 1,003.27 incidents per 100k. Put differently, 1 in 100 people will be the victim of aggravated assault every year.
Ask an American about the most dangerous cities in the U.S. and Baltimore will generally land near the top of the list. Though Baltimore’s crime rates have been decreasing (some have increased again), they’re still exorbitantly high, including a murder rate of 37.42 per 100k. Baltimore is trying to reign in its crime levels, even implementing youth curfew laws in 2014 – unaccompanied children under 14 must be in by 9 P.M. and those 14-16 must be in by 10 P.M. (or 11 P.M. on weekends and during the summer).
Little Rock, Arkansas
Few might guess Little Rock, Arkansas, has the fifth highest rate of aggravated assault on our list, but it’s true – as is its #6 place on our list with 1,407 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Though property crime has fallen since 2000, violent crime has increased.
Though third lowest on our list for aggravated assaults, Cleveland is still a seriously dangerous city, largely due to crack cocaine and gang violence which led crime to skyrocket in the 1980’s. To combat the rise, Cleveland successfully implemented policies such as removing gang-related graffiti and telling news stations not to report gang names. Showing the relation between unemployment and crime, a 2004 study found the highest rates of crime (especially economic crimes) associated with areas having the lowest access to jobs.
St. Louis, Missouri
Be careful if you’re walking around St. Louis, Missouri! The city holds the title of fourth most dangerous city in America and has the third highest murder rate per capita and fourth highest rate of aggravated assault on our list. Crime rates have been mostly decreasing since the mid-90’s but still remain above the national average.
Founded in part by former President Andrew Jackson, Memphis, Tennessee, is the third largest city in the Southeastern United States. Crime in Memphis is largely related to gang activity with an estimated 182 gangs and 8,400 gang members known in the county, a much higher concentration than most urban areas across the country. Aggravated assault made up two-thirds of violent crime in the city at 7,200 reported incidents.
More recently lauded as one of “America’s Coolest Cities” (Forbes) or “America’s Most Hipster Cities” (Thrillist), Oakland, California, still bears the title of one of the most dangerous cities in United States, coming in at #2 on our list. Oakland has the highest robbery rate on our list at 1,218.66 per 100k; said otherwise, 12 out of 1,000 people can expect to be robbed every year. One of the major causes attributed to Oakland’s massive crime increase in the 1960’s (and continued danger levels) is a FBI and police strategy which used military tactics and heavily relied on imprisonment.
By far the most dangerous city in America is Detroit, Michigan. The old auto-manufacturing town holds the records on our list for both the highest number of murders (45.15 per 100k) and aggravated assaults (1,256.77 per 100k). With 2,072.33 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, Detroit is a dangerous place to live or visit. Though it can be tough to see the bright side in a city that has just emerged from bankruptcy, there is hope – murders in Detroit decreased 14% from 2012 to 2013 and a further 5% the following year. Be mindful if you visit, though – 70% of murders are said to be unsolved.