We use FBI crime statistics and US Census population 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 information that cities across the country report through the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. If you don’t see your city listed, it could be due to incomplete UCR 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. We use US Census Bureau population data to identify the median city population in each state and report only on cities with populations above the median. This reduces the risk of outliers and lowers the likelihood of an extreme outlier skewing the data.
The FBI UCR 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.
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 2020 were decided
To identify the “safest” cities of 2020, we reviewed 2018 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. Four states (Hawaii, Iowa, Nevada, and North Carolina) 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.
NOTE: In 2019, we only used violent crime rates to rank cities. After feedback and further consideration, we decided that didn’t paint a full picture of a community, so this year we included both violent and property crime. The addition of property crime to the calculation resulted in some big movement for some cities. If your town made a big jump—up or down—chances are this is the reason.
Where the State of Safety report comes in
In addition to city rankings for 2020, we also conducted our second annual nationwide survey to find out what people are actually worried about when it comes to safety.
This data helped 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 State of Safety study used a 10-minute online survey that was fielded in September and October 2019. We spoke to 5,065 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.”
Ranking concerns and perceptions
We then looked at the issue that ranked first place in each state as the most concerning issue. From there, we compared the overall percentage of “highly concerned” responses from each state to see which safety issues had the highest and lowest levels of concern.
We also asked respondents which crimes they think they’re most likely to fall victim to, and what (if any) safety and security precautions they use to protect themselves and their property.
For the first time, we asked survey participants about their perceptions of and concern about mass shootings.¹ After coming up in many spontaneous answers in unaided questions last year, it seemed relevant to include this safety issue in the study.
While mass shootings are incredibly devastating events, they are outlier occurrences. We don’t believe they indicate the overall or general safety of a city or community.
For full details about what safety issues people are most worried about, check out the complete State of Safety report.
What we’re doing to improve our reports
In light of recent events and ongoing civil unrest across the country, we’ve taken 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.
Starting with our 2020 safest and most dangerous metro area rankings, we’re adding multiple data points to our reports, including the following factors:
Median income and poverty data
High school graduation rates
Household access to high-speed internet
City budget allocations
We chose these data points because, over the past six years, we’ve observed a correlation between socioeconomic factors and reported crime rates.
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’ve added this dimension to our 2020 reports as a first step toward improving the relevance and veracity of these rankings.
In the future, we will emphasize both assets and challenges within the cities we rank and move the conversation beyond crime to incorporate the underlying issues that can help and hurt the safety and wellbeing of a community.
1. Mass Shooting Definition SafeWise uses the GVA definition of a mass shooting: “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.”
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 six. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month testing and evaluating security products and strategies. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her work and contributions in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, HGTV, MSN, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips. Learn more