How Do We Pick the Safest Cities? Our Rankings Demystified

Our rankings demystified

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 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.

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
  • Redlining practices
  • Household access to high-speed internet
  • City budget allocations
  • Unemployment rates

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.”

Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for 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.
  • 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.

  • David Harrington

    You draw your rankings in large part from the annual FBI CRIME REPORT, but you fail to mention that the same report cautions against making simplistic rankings based on the data reported. There are simply too many variables for one to consider. For example, some states, and Vermont is one of them, does not consider a criminal death by traffic crash a homicide, so these are not included in the FBI report. In my view, quality of life crimes should also be factored into consideration. If a neighborhood is plagued with vandalism, noise, drunk and disorderly conduct, etc., people feel far less “safe” in these areas.

  • John Holmes

    Ms. Edwards, may I say that, all the naysayers notwithstanding, I appreciate all the work that went into compiling this. One generality that should be obvious: of course (!) small towns in rural areas will be safer than urban areas. And, no doubt there are hundreds of towns under 2,000 population in Oklahoma, for example, that will apparently be extremely safe. But that’s not of interest to the vast majority, but perhaps of great interest to someone considering a safe place to retire.
    It would be helpful to know whether the population figures are taken
    from metropolitan areas vs city proper when considering a larger city but it’s not that difficult to deduce many valuable conclusions from the information provided.

  • slackdammit

    Without pointing fingers or naming names, I’ll say there are particular ethnic groups who are far more violent than others. When I need to evaluate a particular place, I just check the demographics.

    • matt hewz

      Sadly that is generally the most accurate guage.