While there are many safe and thriving cities in America, unfortunately there are also some that have been negatively affected by economic hardship, a proliferation of guns and gangs and a divided class based on wealth and race; all of which have created the conditions that have given them the dubious distinction of being the ten most dangerous cities in the U.S.
While America's largest cities like New York and Los Angeles may have more crime on the whole, these cities are better equipped to deal with these problems. Their huge populations, however, give them a crime rate much lower than these smaller, and much more dangerous cities.
You don't want to find yourself walking these streets late at night.
10 Birmingham, Alabama
A staple on any list regarding crime and violence in the United States, Birmingham boasts a population of merely 212,000 people. The city’s 78 murders in 2012 awarded Birmingham with the dubious distinction of being one of the top 10 cities for homicides in the U.S. that year. While the number of murders in Birmingham dropped to 67 in 2013, it’s disconcerting to know that last year’s tally was the lowest in a decade. City officials maintain that they are diligently working to make the city safer by building a new park, a minor league baseball stadium and re-gentrifying old warehouses and railroad buildings downtown, as well as adding more police patrols and streetlights to the most affected areas. While these efforts may have helped lower crime marginally, they haven’t keep Birmingham off of this list. As long as Birmingham is a city filled with poverty and inequality it will remain a city filled with crime.
9 Bridgeport, Connecticut
Connecticut is not a state you would typically associate with having one of the country’s most dangerous cities to live in. And yet Bridgeport, Connecticut’s largest city is precisely that: dangerous. Surely, Bridgeport is a far cry from the wealthy CEO’s and hedge-fund operators living in their mansions out in the cozy suburbs. According to the FBI, over a quarter of the city’s population lives below the poverty line creating ripe conditions for gangs, which Bridgeport has plenty of. In fact, gangs are believed to be responsible for nearly all of the city’s shootings, and though the number of murders fell to only 11 last year, the numbers are misleading. Bridgeport only has a population of 146,500 people, meaning a murder rate of over 0.5 per 100,000 people. Beyond shootings are murders Bridgeport also has a high rate of sexual violence. The FBI sited an example in 2012 where two different individuals committed over 250 counts of sex-related crimes between them alone.
8 Newark, New Jersey
Newark seems synonymous with cities you wouldn’t want to visit doesn’t it? It’s often referenced in pop culture, and colloquially as a dangerous place, and helps paint the entire Garden State’s image as such. New Jersey itself can be quite beautiful. Newark, not so much. Newark endured an astounding 111 murders last year; it has a population of less than 300,000 people. Put into perspective, a city like Toronto, with over two million people, averages 40 murders per year. Cutbacks in almost all of the city’s most important services, like the economy and housing, have left many jobless and desperate. The cutbacks have reached the police as well. There are nearly 1,000 less police officers on the streets than needed, leading to fears it may only get more dangerous in Newark.
7 Gary, Indiana
The tragic decline of Gary, Indiana is one not unlike so many other industrial cities across the United States. Originally built as a company headquarters for the U.S. Steel Corporation, Gary was once a booming town, literally. With a population of less than 80,000 residents it hardly qualifies as a city. As the steel business slowly but surely descended ever downward toward impoverishment, so did Gary, Indiana. As of the end of 2013 almost 40% of the city’s population lived below the poverty line, creating conditions that contributed to the number of murders on Gary’s streets. The city has one of the highest murder rates in the country, 69 per 100,000 residents, and has had to resort to using volunteer policemen to do in-office work so that the city can send out more full-time officers to curb the violence.
6 Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland was one of the cities worst hit by the mortgage crisis in the later 2000s, and once the crisis had reaped its toll on the city, many formerly stable working class neighborhoods were filled with vacant homes which were quickly re-purposed as havens for gangs and other criminals. As a result, Cleveland saw almost 30,000 crimes last year, 84 of those murders. Quite a lot for a city filled with less than 400,000 people. In fact, the crime rate in Cleveland is nearly 11 percent higher than Ohio’s median average, and roughly 10 percent higher than the American average as a whole.
5 St. Louis, Missouri
One of the most exciting things a traveler can do is drive over the Mississippi River and past the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. One word of advice, though; do it during the day. If you happen to be passing through St. Louis at night, don’t get out of your car. Although safer than neighboring East St. Louis in Illinois, St. Louis, Missouri is renowned as much for crime as it is the Gateway Arch. And it’s a relatively small city, with a population of less than 320,000 people. The relatively small population didn’t help prevent the 113 murders in 2013, however, a rise from the previous year, nor did it prevent the nearly 28,000 crimes overall. In fact, 1 out of every 56 people in St. Louis experiences some sort of violent crime, and 1 in every 14, property crime. With a National Crime Index rating of 1, (1 being the worst, 100 the best) St. Louis is safer than only 1% of all other American cities.
4 Oakland, California
When a city’s police force is less than one-third the size of the average city’s police force in California and that city happens to be the most dangerous in the state, there’s going to be rampant crime. The police are trying to turn things around by focusing on areas that are most prone to crime, something the department believes is helping. However, Oakland still saw 127 murders in 2013 and over 34,000 crimes all together. And the crime rate has been steadily climbing. The violent crime rate in Oakland is nearly 16% higher than the national average, and the property crime rate is nearly 40% higher. Consider this, there are over 430 crimes per square mile in Oakland compared to the U.S. national average of 39.
3 Detroit, Michigan
It was only a matter of time before Detroit showed up on this list. According to CNN, Detroit recorded almost as many murders in 2013 as New York City, which has almost 12 times the population. In massive decline for years, recently Detroit has gone bankrupt, lost 20% of it’s police force to budget cuts, and as a result, response times to 911 calls may take over an hour. Such difficulties in policing a city that has fallen on incredibly hard times helped contribute to the 386 murders and 56,000 total crimes in Detroit last year. And things aren’t getting any better. A cursory drive through many parts of the city makes one feel as if they were in a desolate ghost town, and extremely unsafe at that. And not without good reason: Detroit’s violent crime rate is nearly 18 times higher than the rest of the U.S. where 1 in 47 are a victim. Like St. Louis, when in Detroit, particularly at night, don’t get out of your car.
2 Flint, Michigan
As the birthplace of General Motors, Flint is another example of a city rising and painfully falling with the industry it bore. In the early 1980s there were over 80,000 auto industry-related jobs in Flint. Now they are all gone. The auto industry’s decline has left Flint scraping at the bottom of Michigan’s poverty line, with over 40% living well below it. For a city of 100,000 people, 1 in every 36 is a victim of violent crime, and 1 in every 17 residents is a victim of property crime. The violent crime rate is an astonishing 23% higher than the national average, and considering it’s in the same state as Detroit, Flint’s violent crime rate is still nearly 22% higher than the state average. Michael Moore gave us a glimpse of Flint in his documentary Bowling For Columbine a decade ago; it seems things have only gotten worse.
1 Camden, New Jersey
According to CQ Press' City Crime Rankings 2014,Camden had the highest crime rate in the nation among cities of 75,000 residents or more. Rampant drugs, poverty and homelessness make Camden fertile ground for gangs and crime. There were 67 murders in Camden in 2013, and the violent crime rate is 22% higher than the U.S. average; shockingly high for a city of less than 80,000 people. Long considered one of the most dangerous cities in America, last year, the state of New Jersey transferred the policing of Camden from the city to the county, in hopes of cleaning up the city’s plethora of problems. With 30% more officers on the ground, and a general focus on the most hard-hit neighborhoods, politicians and residents in Camden are hopeful. Here’s hoping there’s a different number one on this list next year.