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How Do We Pick the Safest Cities? Our Rankings Demystified

Written by | Updated March 9, 2020

Our Rankings Demystified

We use FBI crime statistics and US Census population data to rank the safest 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

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 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 ranking the safest cities of 2020, SafeWise also conducted its 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 Survey

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.

Endnotes

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

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  • Chris

    I disagree with this analysis completely, reports based completely off ucr where agencies choose what they report to FBI, they do not have to report as well. Dumfries having zero violent crime is completely inaccurate. Request that you gather more factual data from these organizations such as direct reporting statistics, not UCR if you going to make this kind of report

  • Kent Borcherding

    There is a serious flaw in this ranking. Take Shawnee for instance, it was reported as the most dangerous city in Oklahoma by population. Shawnee is unique because although the population is only reported as 31K, It has over 100K people in Shawnee everyday. Therefore the number of people in town is over 3 times the population. Taking just this 1 aspect into consideration would now lower Shawnee to one of the safer cities. I think you will find small bedroom communities without allot of business and industry will always incorrectly show the safest just using crime states and population as the yardstick.

    • Rebecca Edwards

      Thanks for your feedback. We are always looking for ways to improve our rankings and methodology with the information and resources that are available to us. In 2020, although we will still use FBI and US Census Bureau data, we are also layering in data from our independent State of Safety research study and, as possible, will be reaching out to residents and law enforcement in some of the cities to add insights such as yours to our reporting.

      • E Van Denburgh

        Rebecca Edwards,
        My apologies but I still do not understand how you rank while I think I understand where the data and ratios come from. I added the violent and property crimes/1,000 residents and Stockton had a lower combination of 51.7 than Santa Monica which had a 59.7, with Santa Monica having a ranking of 227 vs. Stockton of 229. Please help me understand how final rankings determined. Thank-you

  • David Brian

    I wouldn’t believe the FBI if every agent swore on a stack of Bibles the information of correct.