Big cities and safety have more in common than you might think. Metro counties and cities with populations between 250,000 and 500,000 showed the biggest drop in violent crime between 2016 and 2017—and cities with one million or more residents had the next-biggest decline.
Where you have more people, you tend to have more resources, and our safest metro cities of 2019 are using those resources to keep the city streets safe. But it’s not all good news. We’ve also broken down the most dangerous metro areas, where violent crime rates are nearly four times higher than the national average.
What Makes the Most Dangerous Cities So Crime-Ridden?
Experts continue to debate the precise causes of violent crime, but there are a few factors that pop up consistently. We compared wealth distribution, high school graduation rates, the median age, and ethnic diversity to see if there were any trends that could explain why the most dangerous cities are so crime-ridden. The biggest differences we found between the safest and most dangerous cities are median household income and poverty rates.
Only three of the safest cities have a median income below the national average of $57,652, but 90% of the most dangerous cities do—and Detroit and Cleveland have median household incomes of just $27,000 per year. But when you look at the poverty rate, only two cities among the safest cities are below the national average of 14.6%, and every one of the most dangerous cities is higher.
The Safest (and Most Dangerous) Metro Cities Stats
90% of both the safest and the most dangerous metro cities are on the list for the second consecutive year.
Tampa is the only new addition to the top 10 safest metro cities—moving up from number 14 last year.
Albuquerque moved up from 12th place last year to take the eighth spot on the most dangerous list.
The West didn’t show up much when we looked at the safest small towns, but half of the safest metros call the West home. In contrast, just one western city showed up in the most dangerous list—Oakland, California.
The South is home to the other half of this year’s safest metros, with Texas having the second-largest showing with two cities. California rules with three.
Even though the Northeast didn’t have any cities in the safest metros, it also steered clear of the most dangerous. The Northeast dominated on our safest small towns and 100 safest cities lists.
90% of the safest metro cities have violent crime rates below the national average of 4.49. The only outlier is newcomer Tampa, with 4.64.
70% of the safest cities have property crime rates below the national average of 27.11. The cities that exceeded the average are Honolulu (27.74), Lexington (37.82), and Austin (31.90).
80% of the most dangerous cities have violent crime rates that are three times higher than the national rate of 4.49. The median violent crime rate of the most dangerous metros is 17.05.
40% of the most dangerous cities have property crime rates that are two times higher than the national rate of 27.11. The median property crime rate of the most dangerous metros is 52.82.
90% of the most dangerous cities are below the national median income and 70% have poverty rates above 20% (the national average is 14.6%). Oakland is the outlier when it comes to median household income—its median income is $63,251 compared to the national median of $57,652.
62.5% of the safest cities are above the national median income and only two (El Paso and Tampa) have poverty rates of 20% or higher.
The Top 10 Safest Metro Cities
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Violent Crime Rate (per 1,000)1.38
Property Crime Rate (per 1,000)19.35
This coastal jewel not only reported the lowest violent crime rate among the safest metro cities but also had the lowest total incidents of violent crime in 2017—just 625 (that’s more than 500 fewer than the next closest city). But even the safest communities aren’t immune to random violence like mass shootings. Virginia Beach saw two mass shooting incidents in 2018.¹ Those incidents aren’t reflected in the 2017 FBI numbers, but they could endanger this vibrant city’s chances at a three-peat as the safest metro in the country.
Violent Crime Rate (per 1,000)2.46
Property Crime Rate (per 1,000)27.74
Violent crime in Hawaii’s capital city fell nearly one point between 2016 and 2017, according to FBI crime reports. That’s an impressive feat for a city that’s home to almost one million people and around five million visitors each year. One of the city’s biggest safety challenges in 2018 was pedestrian safety. To curb this issue, a number of initiatives were put in place, like broadcasting traffic fatality numbers overhead on the freeway and encouraging the public to post their own safety messages.
Violent Crime Rate (per 1,000)3.51
Property Crime Rate (per 1,000)37.82
Even though Lexington’s overall violent crime rate rose slightly this year, the city still managed to be one of the nation’s safest. Perhaps that small bump in violent crime is what prompted a coordinated citywide effort to reduce violent crime in 2018. According to the Lexington Police Department, violent crime fell by 13% last year, including a 21% drop in both robberies and murder. The program included strategic partnerships between law enforcement agencies, public safety task forces, and neighborhood meetings.
Violent Crime Rate (per 1,000)3.55
Property Crime Rate (per 1,000)26.30
Initiatives like City of Kindness, which emphasize community engagement, have made Anaheim a model for other cities across the country. In 2016, the mayor and a local student went to New York City to promote the launch of a nationwide version of the program. Emphasis on acts of kindness to create a resilient, safe community seems to be paying off. Among all the metro areas that made the list, Anaheim reported the fewest counts of murder in 2017, with 10. That’s four fewer than the number one city.
San Diego, California
Violent Crime Rate (per 1,000)3.67
Property Crime Rate (per 1,000)18.43
San Diego had a drop in both violent and property crime rates in 2017. Sadly, the city has seen two mass shootings since then, one in 2018 and one in February of this year.² Fortunately, no one was killed, but unpredictable incidents like this can make a city feel less safe. Still, those who call this beautiful seaside city home can be reassured that outside of these exceptions, San Diego is making progress to reduce crime and foster a safe community.
El Paso, Texas
Violent Crime Rate (per 1,000)3.79
Property Crime Rate (per 1,000)18.19
Despite border and immigration controversies, El Paso preserves its reputation as one of the safest metro cities in the nation. Both violent and property crime rates dropped compared to last year’s rankings. This positive momentum is even more impressive when you consider that El Paso sits below both the nationwide median household income and the average rate of high school graduation. But these factors don’t stand in El Paso’s way when it comes to creating vibrant communities that are committed to safety and lending a hand.
San Jose, California
Violent Crime Rate (per 1,000)4.04
Property Crime Rate (per 1,000)24.41
San Jose saw a slight uptick in its violent and property crime rates, moving this Silicon Valley star two spots down the list this year. But San Jose is proactive when it comes to citywide safety. The Strong Neighborhoods Initiative established San Jose as a national leader for creating resource equity among lower-income and ethnically diverse areas. The city continues to focus on neighborhood development and engagement with its ongoing Neighborhoods Commission.
Violent Crime Rate (per 1,000)4.15
Property Crime Rate (per 1,000)31.90
The property crime rate in Austin dropped almost four points this year, but it’s still higher than both the state and national rates. While the city is making strides to curb property crime, Austin is also looking out for the physical safety of citizens and visitors. This year’s South by Southwest festival saw a surge in electric scooter usage that highlights one of the city’s biggest safety concerns—head injuries. Austin has partnered with the CDC to conduct a study about the health hazards of scooters.
Violent Crime Rate (per 1,000)4.16
Property Crime Rate (per 1,000)21.72
This desert city is one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country, and Mesa isn’t leaving its safety to chance in the midst of booming growth. To stay ahead of bigger demands on local police and fire department resources, Mesa police launched a Crisis Intervention Team dedicated to addressing an increase in mental health issues. And last November the city passed a public safety sales tax increase that will help hire 45 new firefighters and 65 police officers.
Violent Crime Rate (per 1,000)4.64
Property Crime Rate (per 1,000)17.44
Tampa broke into the top 10 this year, moving up four spots from last year’s ranking. This colorful city has the lowest property crime rate and the lowest total number of property crimes on the list. But Tampa also claims the highest violent crime rate among the top 10. When it comes to protecting residents, it’s Tampa’s celebration of diversity that really stands out. The TPD Safe Place initiative was created to combat hate crimes and provide safe places in the city where victims can seek help.
America’s 10 Safest Big Cities
City Violent Crime Rate (per 1,000)
City Property Crime Rate (per 1,000)
America’s 10 Most Dangerous Big Cities
City Violent Crime Rate (per 1,000)
City Property Crime Rate (per 1,000)
Looking for Your City?
How We Picked the Safest and Most Dangerous Metro Cities in America
To identify the safest and most dangerous big cities in the country, we analyzed FBI crime report statistics and population data for 2017 (the most recent year for which data was available).³ We set a population threshold at 300,000 and higher. Cities that fell below that threshold were excluded, along with cities that failed to submit a complete crime report to the FBI.
Cities were ranked based on the number of reported violent crimes (aggravated assault, murder, rape, and robbery) in each city. If there was a tie, we also factored in the number of property crimes (burglary, arson, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft). To level the playing field, we calculated the rate of crimes per 1,000 people in each city.
Check out our full methodology to learn more about how we rank the Safest Cities
Rebecca has honed her safety and security skills as both a single mom and a college director. Being responsible for the well-being of others helped her learn how to minimize risk and create safe environments. Learn more