The most dangerous cities in America

The FBI reported Monday that 1,197,704 violent crimes were committed in 2015, up 3.9% from 2014. Violent crime rates are by no means uniform across the country. Some of the nation’s cities are far more dangerous than others.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed violent crime rates in major U.S. cities from the FBI’s 2015 Uniform Crime Report. Violent crime includes all offenses involving force or threat of force and are broken into four categories: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. For every 100,000 U.S. residents, 372 of these crimes were committed in 2015.

To identify the 25 most dangerous U.S. cities, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed violent crime rates in cities with at least 100,000 people from the FBI’s 2015 Uniform Crime Report released Monday. The total number and rates of murder, non negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, which are included in the violent crime rate, as well as burglaries, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson — all classified as property crime — also came from the FBI’s report. We also considered these data for each year from 2011 through 2015. Annual unemployment rates for 2015 came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Median household income, poverty rates, the percentage of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree, population, and the percentage of adults with at least a high school diploma came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS).

These are America’s most dangerous cities.

10. Kansas City
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,417.3
> 2015 murders: 109
> Poverty rate: 19.4%
> Unemployment rate: 5.5%

While the nationwide violent crime rate rose by 3.9% in 2015, the increase in Kansas City was far more dramatic. With homicide and aggravated assault rates surging, the city reported a 14.4% spike in violent crime last year. Crime in the city is up even more from five years ago. The city’s violent crime rate increased by 21.2% from 2011 through 2015, even as the nationwide rate declined by 0.7% over that period.

9. Oakland, Calif.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,442.5
> 2015 murders: 85
> Poverty rate: 21.0%
> Unemployment rate: 5.9%

Nationwide aggravated assaults are more than twice as common as robberies. In a handful of cities, however, including Oakland, the robbery rate is higher than the aggravated assault rate. With 3,290 robberies, or 784 for every 100,000 residents, Oakland has the highest robbery rate in the country. There were 570 aggravated assaults reported for every 100,000 city residents, still more than double the national rate.

8. Little Rock, Ark.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,485.0
> 2015 murders: 32
> Poverty rate: 18.0%
> Unemployment rate: 4.7%

Property crime rates declined across the country in 2015, while violent crime rates increased. In keeping with the broader trend, Little Rock’s property crimes declined by 9.8%, while the violent crime rate increased by 6.9%. Both changes outpaced the respective 3.9% and 7.8% national changes, however.

With the sixth highest aggravated assault rate in the country, Little Rock is the only city in Arkansas to rank among the nation’s most dangerous.

7. Baltimore
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,535.9
> 2015 murders: 344
> Poverty rate: 24.2%
> Unemployment rate: 7.7%

While murders are far less common than the other offenses that comprise violent crime, Baltimore has recently earned a national spotlight for its near-nation-leading murder rate. Baltimore has the second highest murder rate of major U.S. cities — at 55 murders for every 100,000 residents, it is more than 11 times the national murder rate. The number of murders in Baltimore have risen considerably over the last five years. There were 196 reported incidents of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter in Baltimore in 2011. Last year, there were 344.

6. Rockford, Ill.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,585.3
> 2015 murders: 19
> Poverty rate: 25.4%
> Unemployment rate: 8.3%

After Memphis, Tennessee, Rockford, Illinois has the highest rate of aggravated assault in the country. High crime areas often lack economic opportunity, and Rockford is no exception. More than a quarter of area residents live in poverty, and the city’s 8.3% unemployment rate in 2015 was nearly the highest in the country.

Rockford’s violent crime rate surged by 27.2% in 2015, one of the most dramatic increases in the country.

5. Milwaukee
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,596.1
> 2015 murders: 145
> Poverty rate: 29.4%
> Unemployment rate: 6.7%

Even as the nation’s population increased by 3.2% over the five years ending in 2015, violent crime fell by 0.7% over that period. In Milwaukee, however, although the population rose by just 0.5%, the number of violent crimes rose by 60.5% — from less than 6,000 incidents to more than 9,500. In just five years, the city moved from the 29th most dangerous city to the fifth most dangerous among major U.S. cities. A major driver of that increase was aggravated assault incidents — the number of aggravated assaults nearly doubled during that time.

4. Memphis
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,740.1
> 2015 murders: 135
> Poverty rate: 27.4%
> Unemployment rate: 7.3%

Memphis’s violent crime rate of 1,740 incidents per 100,000 residents trails only three other U.S. cities. Nationwide, aggravated assault is the most common of all violent crimes. In Memphis, there were 7,653 reported aggravated assaults in 2015, or 1,163 per 100,000 people, the highest such rate of any other city.

Like many violent cities, Memphis’s economy is in poor shape. More than a quarter of city residents live below the poverty line, and the 7.3% unemployment rate in 2015 was 2 percentage points higher than national unemployment rate.

3. Birmingham, Ala.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,746.2
> 2015 murders: 79
> Poverty rate: 31.0%
> Unemployment rate: 7.2%

Violent crime in Birmingham, Alabama’s increased by 10% from 2014 and by 17.2% from 2011. As the third most violent city in the country, Birmingham’s murder, robbery, and aggravated assault rates are each among the top five of all major U.S. cities. As in many high crime areas, poverty is relatively common in Birmingham. Citywide, 31% of residents live in poverty, a higher poverty rate than that of all but a dozen other large U.S. cities.

2. Detroit
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,759.6
> 2015 murders: 295
> Poverty rate: 39.8%
> Unemployment rate: 12.4%

There were 1,760 violent crimes in Detroit for every 100,000 city residents in 2015. Though the city’s violent crime rate is down 22.3% from 2011, it is the second highest in the country.

Detroit’s high violent crime rate is likely tied to the few opportunities the dismal economic climate provides. Nearly 40% of city residents live in poverty, and 12.4% of the workforce was unemployed as of 2015, each the highest share of any major U.S. city.

1. St. Louis
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,817.1
> 2015 murders: 188
> Poverty rate: 27.8%
> Unemployment rate: 6.1%

Including 188 homicides, there were 5,762 violent crimes in St. Louis in 2015. Adjusting for population, the city’s murder and violent crime rates, at 59 murders and 1,817 per 100,000 city residents, are each the highest in the country. The number of violent crimes reported in St. Louis increased by 7.7% last year, faster than the national uptick of 3.9%. Over the last five years, however, the incidence of violent crime is down by 3.2%.

Click here to see the rest of the 25 most dangerous cities.

More on America's most dangerous cities

St. Louis led the nation with 1,817 violent crimes per 100,000 residents last year. Cary, N.C., by contrast, is the safest city in the nation with just 51 reported violent crimes per 100,000 city residents.

Relatively crime-free cities can be found in states just a few hundred miles from some of the most violent places in the country. California is home to cities such as Irvine, Murrieta, and Sunnyvale, which have among the 10 lowest violent crime rates of all U.S. major cities. However, California is also home to some of the most violent cities in the country, including Oakland, which is just 40 miles from Sunnyvale.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at nonprofit economic and social policy research organization the Urban Institute, noted the highly localized nature of violence in the United States. “We see no connection between state policies and where these [crime] trends are up or down,” La Vigne said.

Because many diverse and complex factors can affect violence in a community, it is very difficult to predict and address violent crime. For example, some cities attempt to curb gang violence by increasing enforcement. These efforts, however, are usually not successful, “if you don’t look at issues around structural inequality and reasons why kids may be compelled to join gangs to begin with,” La Vigne explained.

In many cases, the reason for the heightened violence is the lack of law-abiding activities, including — La Vigne noted — employment opportunities. The unemployment rate exceeds the national rate of 5.3% in 19 of the 25 cities with the highest violent crime rates.

Several other social and economic factors have been tied to high violent crime. The vast majority of the cities with the highest violent crime rates tend to also report very low incomes, high poverty, and low educational attainment.

The cause and effect relationship between violent crime and measures of social well-being such as poverty, educational attainment, and employment can go in both directions. For example, people living in high-crime neighborhoods can suffer from stress and other negative social and health outcomes that can limit their chances to obtain an education and gainful employment. Or, businesses may be less likely to locate in high-crime neighborhoods, effectively limiting employment opportunities for local residents.

A relatively small percentage of the population — even within the most disadvantaged communities — is actually engaged in violence, according to La Vigne. Still, every resident of relatively unsafe communities is affected in some way by the violence that occurs there. “The difference between victim and perpetrator is often indistinguishable,” she said.

24/7 Wall St. is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news and commentary. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.


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