How Do We Pick the Safest Cities? Our Rankings Explained

Our rankings explained

We use FBI crime statistics data to rank cities in each state and across the country. To add extra insight and depth to that assessment, we include demographic information and the results of our proprietary State of Safety research study.

The "safest" cities rankings are intended to highlight cities with low crime rates and ignite conversation and action around how to make all cities and communities safer.

For the purposes of city ranking reports, the terms “dangerous” and “safest” refer explicitly to crime rates as calculated from FBI crime data—no other characterization of any community is implied or intended.

How the safest cities are ranked

We use the most up-to-date FBI crime data as the backbone of our reports. This means we rely on voluntary, self-reported information that cities and jurisdictions across the country report through the FBI Summary Reporting System (SRS) and National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). If you don’t see your city listed, it could be due to incomplete data or the failure to submit a report.

We know that crime statistics are only one measure of what makes any community safe.

We also use population thresholds for each state. First, we exclude all cities with populations below 2,500. Then we use population data (as reported to the FBI) to identify the median city population for all remaining cities that reported to the FBI in each state. We report only on cities with populations above the median for each state. This reduces the risk of outliers and lowers the likelihood of an extreme outlier skewing the data. Because every city in a state may not report to the FBI, a state's total population may not be accounted for, and the median population we determine is likely different than a median based on US Census data. 

The FBI data is just one way that cities report crime statistics, and we know that it may differ from other reports a city or police department submits. But, to make sure that we’re comparing apples to apples, we’ve chosen to use this data as the basis of our "safest" cities reporting. Plus, this is the most consistent report available for most cities across the nation.

A note about population data:
It has come to our attention that, on occasion, data may be skewed by outlying factors such as large commuter populations, college campuses, and incarcerated populations. In those cases, crime rates calculated based solely on crime reports and population numbers may not give an accurate representation of a particular community. We appreciate these nuances and are considering their potential impact to future reports.

How we ranked the safest and most dangerous metro areas

To identify the safest and most dangerous metro areas in the country, we analyzed FBI crime report statistics and population data. We set a population threshold at 300,000 and higher. Metro areas that fell below that threshold were excluded, along with metros that failed to submit a complete crime report to the FBI.

Metro areas were ranked based on the number of reported violent crimes (aggravated assault, murder, rape, and robbery) and the number of reported property crimes (burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft). To level the playing field, we calculated the rate of crimes per 1,000 people in each city. Weighting and normalization for the metro cities was applied the same way as for the "safest" cities in each state, described in more detail below.

How the safest cities of 2022 were decided

To identify the safest cities of 2022, we reviewed 2020 FBI crime report statistics (the most recent complete report available at the time of ranking) and population data.

Cities that fell below identified population thresholds—or that failed to submit a complete crime report to the FBI—were excluded from the report. Seven states (Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania) were also excluded from the rankings due to a large number of cities with incomplete (or no) crime reporting.

Calculating crime rates

Our rankings are based on both violent and property crime numbers. We looked at the number of reported violent crimes (aggravated assault, murder, rape, and robbery) in each city and the number of reported property crimes (burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft).

Arson is excluded from the FBI’s property crime rates, so we excluded it as well.

To level the playing field, we calculated the rate of crimes per 1,000 people in each city. This makes it easier to directly compare the likelihood of these crimes occurring in cities with vastly different populations.

Both violent and property crime numbers were weighted equally. That means that a city with no violent crimes reported could end up lower on the list due to a higher property crime rate, and vice versa. We also standardized violent and property crime for each state before weighting.

Where the State of Safety report comes in

In addition to city rankings for 2022, we also conducted our fourth annual nationwide survey to find out Americans’ top safety concerns. Over the past four years, we’ve polled more than 20,000 Americans about their attitudes and perceptions around safety and crime.

This data helps us compare perceptions of safety and danger to the reality of crime statistics.

We added these correlations and other useful findings to our safest cities reports.

The survey

The State of Safety study used a 10-minute online survey that was fielded in August and September 2020. We spoke to 5,026 respondents across the US (at least 100 from every state). Responses were weighted for population. Based on the number of completions, the margin of error is ±1.4%.

The State of Safety survey asked participants to rate how concerned they were about each crime and safety issue using a scale from one to seven. One was “not at all concerned” and seven was “highly concerned." For comparison and ranking purposes, responses were grouped into three ranges:

  • Responses marked 7, 6, or 5 indicated high concern.
  • Responses marked 4 were considered neutral.
  • Responses marked 3, 2, or 1 indicated low concern.

A pandemic-focused update of approximately 5,000 Americans was fielded in February and March 2022. Full results from this survey will be published at a later date. Select updates were made to the State of Safety report in March 2022.

Ranking concerns and perceptions

We first looked at the number of respondents who indicated high concern about their general safety and security on a daily basis. This gave us a baseline for the overall level of concern across the US and state by state.

From there, we compared responses from each state to see which safety concerns and crime issues had the highest and lowest levels of concern. We asked which safety concerns respondents worry about on a daily basis, as well as their concern about falling victim to different types of crime.

We also asked respondents what (if any) safety and security precautions they use to protect themselves and their property.

For the second time in the history of our report, we asked survey participants about their perceptions of and concern about gun violence. In the 2020 State of Safety survey, we singled out mass shootings. This year, we explored gun violence as a whole—based on many spontaneous answers in unaided questions last year that indicated high concern in this broader area.

In an effort to respond to timely events, we also asked survey participants about their perceptions of and concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and police violence. For the pandemic update, we followed-up on perceptions and concern about the pandemic throughout 2021. 

To find out what safety and crime issues people are most worried about, read the complete State of Safety report.

What we’re doing to improve our reports

We constantly seek to improve our reports and provide valuable insights into safety and crime across the US. In light of current events and unrest across the country throughout the past two years, we're taking an even closer look at how we report on the communities we rank.

We recognize that using FBI crime data, as self-reported by local law enforcement agencies, is a one-dimensional and inadequate measure of our nation’s communities.

Crime data, on its own, misses many nuances that contribute to safety—or the lack thereof—including the persistent systemic issues of police violence, economic disparity, and racism.

Simple counts of violent and property crime incidents don't reflect important realities that impact both the perception and the reality of safety in neighborhoods and cities.

Throughout 2022 we are seeking additional ways to quantify and evaluate both perceived and actual safety across the country. We hope to augment our reporting with unique data sets, robust criteria, and deeper investigation into selected communities and cities. 

Including supplemental data for context

Starting in 2020, we added supplemental data points to our safest and most dangerous metro area reports, including the following factors:

  • Median income and poverty data
  • High school graduation rates
  • Redlining practices
  • Household access to high-speed internet
  • City budget allocations
  • Unemployment rates

We chose these data points because, over the past eight years, we’ve observed a correlation between socioeconomic factors and reported crime rates.

Responding to current events and trends

In 2019, we launched our sentiment survey, the State of Safety, to help us better understand and contextualize crime and how people across the country feel about safety—at home and in their community. We added this dimension to our safest city reports starting in 2020 as a first step toward improving the relevance and veracity of these rankings.

Each year that we’ve conducted the survey, we’ve made modifications and additions in order to respond to changing times, attitudes, and trends. Starting with our 2021 State of Safety survey, we narrowed our focus to the most impactful crime issues and added questions about the pandemic and other trending concerns (including package theft and police violence).

Seeking more diverse insights

In our 2021 State of Safety survey we also prioritized collecting a representative demographic sample of Americans, seeking both economic and racial/ethnic diversity among survey respondents.

We think it’s important to have a representative sample when it comes to addressing perceptions of and concerns about safety and crime across the US and in each state. Ultimately, we chose not to use this demographic information to compare and contrast data in our full report because we wanted to avoid harmful generalizations of any demographic group or community.

We will continue to seek deeper understanding about the assets and challenges within the cities we rank in an effort to move the conversation beyond crime. We endeavor to engage in discourse that addresses the underlying issues that can either help or hurt the safety and wellbeing of a community. We also seek to offer solutions to help make individuals, families, and larger communities safer.

Endnotes

Gun violence

SafeWise uses data from the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) to track gun violence incidents. We also adhere to the GVA definitions for mass shootings and officer-involved incidents.

Mass shooting definition: “If four or more people are shot or killed in a single incident, not involving the shooter, that incident is categorized as a mass shooting based purely on that numerical threshold.”

All GVA data is current as of the date last accessed. The GVA regularly changes and updates its data as incidents are examined for accuracy.

Rape offense data

In 2013, the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program revised the definition for collecting rape offense data. The legacy definition only included incidents of “forcible” rape. The new definition doesn’t include the term “forcible.” Instead, any carnal knowledge (or penetration) without the consent of the victim now meets the FBI UCR rape offense definition.

Most states use the new definition to report rape offenses; however, the UCR tally of total rape offenses nationwide still uses the legacy definition. This creates a distinct variance between the number of rapes reported using the new definition and the US number that only includes the legacy definition. Using the current definition, rape offenses are typically the second-most reported violent crime offense, as noted in the individual state data in this report.

Package theft

Although package theft, if represented at all, is included in the FBI UCR data among larceny-theft incidents, SafeWise recognizes it as a subcategory that is growing across the country. We have adopted the definition of package theft as identified in a recent American Journal of Criminal Justice study.

Package theft definition: “Taking possession of a package or its contents, outside of a residence or business, where it has been commercially delivered or has been left for commercial pick-up, with intent to deprive the rightful owner of the contents.”

Sources

FBI: Crime Data Explorer, Accessed March 8, 2022.

US Census Bureau, "Income In the Past 12 Months," Accessed January 24, 2022.

Best Places, “Find a Place Search Tool,” Accessed January 24, 2022.

SafeWise, “State of Safety survey,” Accessed March 8, 2022.

Gun Violence Archive, “Past Summary Ledgers,” Accessed January 24, 2022.

Gun Violence Archive, “General Methodology,” Accessed March 8, 2022.

Melody Hicks, Ben Stickle, Joshua Harms, American Journal of Criminal Justice, “Assessing the Fear of Package Theft,” January 04, 2021. Accessed March 8, 2022.

Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past eight. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime reports and spotting trends. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, NPR, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips.

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