Violent crime in America reached a five-year low in 2011, the most recent year for which national crime data is available. But that doesn’t mean all of our cities are safe places to be.
Here are the five most dangerous cities in America, as compiled by Forbes based on data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports database. (Data for 2012 is not likely to be released until mid to late 2013.) These are places that see more violent crime – murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults – than anywhere else in the nation.
Keep in mind that the FBI and crime experts don’t recommend using crime rates to compare one city to another. They point out, as noted by Forbes, that differences in police reporting standards, economics and urban borders make it difficult to get an accurate comparison: Densely-populated Detroit doesn’t compare well with sprawling Houston.
However, the cities that top the 2012 list are no strangers to such rankings. They’ve made the Forbes list and similar rankings by other publications year after year, and even police agree they are dangerous places to live.
(Interested in finding out how your state or city stacks up to these places? Click here for more info, including state and local violent crime rates.)
1. Detroit, Michigan
The Motor City topped the Forbes list for the fourth year in a row, mostly due to gang violence.
There were 2,137 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2011. That’s actually a 10 percent decline from the year prior, but still five times the national average.
Detroit’s murder rate was second to New Orleans among cities with 200,000 or more in population. To make the ranking as fair as possible, Forbes only considered cities with more than 200,000 people. The highest murder rate – 52 per 100,000 – was actually in Flint, Michigan, a much smaller city that did not qualify for the list.
Police in Detroit told Forbes the city’s violent crimes are not random acts: the perpetrators usually know the victims, many of whom are young gang members.
2. St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is a much smaller city than Detroit, with less than half the population, but the violent crime rate is a close second. In 2011, there were 1,857 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 people.
St. Louis ranked third in the nation for violent assaults, fourth for murders and fifth for robberies. Much of that is related to drugs, experts say. St. Louis is a hub for drug trafficking, falling in the middle of major transport routes.
Again, as with all cities on the list, most of the violent crimes in St. Louis occur between people who know one another.
3. Oakland, California
Oakland’s 2011 violent crime rate was 1,683 incidents per 100,000 people. There were 26.3 murders per 100,000, compared with a national average of 4.7.
In late December 2012, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan announced a major effort to fight crime in 2013, according to the San Francisco Chronicle; however, her announcement was followed by four violent-crime related deaths in 12 hours.
4. Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis, a city of more than 650,000 residents, had a violent crime rate of 1,583 per 100,000 people in 2011.
According to WREG Memphis, a local TV station, there were 157 murders in 2012 – one for every two or three days in the year. The murder rate in the city has climbed for three consecutive years, WREG reported.
5. Birmingham, Alabama
Birmingham is actually a less violent city today than it has been at some points in history, but the violent crime rate remains high at 1,483 incidents for every 100,000 people.
The number of homicides increased in 2012 – 72 compared to 57, as reported by Joey Kennedy, community engagement specialist for The Birmingham News and its affiliated website, al.com. However, as recently as 2006, there were 106 murders. Every year between 1989 and 1997 also saw murder rates in the triple digits, Kennedy reported.
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