When you think of places in the USA where you might not feel entirely safe, you may well think of New York City and LA, or other notorious cities like Baltimore and Chicago. Cities with gang problems, and high levels of reported gun violence are always the first to spring to mind when we think about where in the country might be a deadly place to be. However, when violent crime is analyzed statewide, the picture is actually very different. Using FBI data from 2012 (the most recent available), we have been able to identify in which states you are most likely to be murdered, or become the victim of another form of violent crime like aggravated assault, violent robbery, or rape. You may find the list surprising!
Oklahoma is one of the few states where violent crime rose significantly above the national average last year, with an increase of 3.8%. One area where crime increased even more significantly was in terms of aggravated rape, with an increase of 12.6%. The overall violent crime rate per 100,000 people is 469, the 10th educational attainment – a strong indicator for crime.
While as a state, Maryland looks pretty good on paper in terms of having a low poverty rate and good education statistics, it is let down by Baltimore, one of the most dangerous cities in the USA in terms of violent crime. There were 369 murders in the state in 2012, and Baltimore itself has a worrying statistical murder rate of 35 in 100,000 people. The violent crime rate across the whole state is 477 in 100,000, making it the 9th deadliest state in the U.S.
As with most of the country, Florida’s crime rates have fallen a lot since the worst days of US crime in the early 80’s (a crime wave largely attributed to the prevalence of crack cocaine at that time in many states). Florida used to be one of the worst states for all manner of crime, and their 2012 stats showed a marked improvement, which many believe is the result of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, as well as vast improvements in education. However, while it is getting better, it still ranks 8th with 487 out of 100,000 Florida people a victim in 2012.
Louisiana has some serious crime problems. While it ranks 7th residents, it actually has the highest rates of both murders and shootings. A vast majority of the crime takes place in New Orleans and the surrounding areas, with 427 people shot in this city alone in 2012. It is unsurprising then, that 40% of Louisiana’s murders also took place here. Despite this, in terms of overall violent crime it is still statistically safer than Delaware, with 496 out of 100,000 residents the victims of a violent crime in 2012. This may seem counter intuitive but the FBI’s stats take into account aggravated assault and rape as well as gun crime and homicide.
Delaware, like Alaska is a surprising entry on the list. It has one of the highest average household incomes in the USA, and good education standards in terms of the percentage of students who graduate high school, and the number of people who have bachelor’s degrees or higher. However, it has a violent crime rate of 574 in every 100,000. The majority of the crime problem in Delaware can be attributed to just one city – Wilmington, which has areas where violent crime is a huge issue.
5. South Carolina
While efforts are being made to regenerate South Carolina, which has a reputation for being a poor state with low employment, it still has the fifth highest murder rate, the fifth highest violent crime rate, and the highest property crime rate in the country (while we are only looking at violent crimes in this list, it is still worth noting you are more likely to be non-violently robbed here than anywhere else). New employers like Boeing and BMW have opened manufacturing facilities in the state, improving the job situation, but it may take years for improvements to have a knock on effect on crime rates.
4. New Mexico
If you watched Breaking Bad, you may not find it all that surprising that there is a lot of crime in the state of New Mexico. Certainly Walter White was fictional, but drug related violence is a genuine issue on any border state. New Mexico rates fourth for violent crime, and also fourth for forcible rape. Authorities blame the high crime rate on drug use, gang activity (also drug related), and a reasonably high level of poverty compared to national averages. 559 of every 100,000 people in New Mexico were, statistically speaking, a victim of violent crime in the state last year.
This is the most confusing state to find on the list, as there aren’t any obvious reasons, based on statistical profiles, why Alaska would be the state where you are third most likely to be a victim of violent crime. Its graduation levels are higher than average, it’s poverty levels are comparatively low, and it doesn’t have any particularly vast cities with high tourism or serious financial segregation between wealthier and poorer members of its population. However, in 2012, 603 of every 100,000 people in Alaska was a victim of violent crime, with the most common being forcible rape – statistically, you are more likely to be raped in Alaska than any other state.
The authorities in Nevada tend to blame its annual appearance on lists relating to crime in the U.S. on people from out of state, visiting Reno or Las Vegas to gamble. While the presence of all of those casinos is likely to have some impact on the crime rate, and may explain the high volume of armed robberies, it is more difficult to see why gambling induced poverty would make the state score high in other violent crime categories like aggravated rape. One factor shown statistically to influence state crime rates is the level of education, as with higher education you get social mobility and less poverty related violence. Nevada has the lowest high school and college graduation rate in the country at present.
According to the FBI’s stats, the least safe state to be in is Tennessee. While much of the violence occurs in the major urban areas of Nashville and Memphis, so you are probably fairly safe in smaller cities, Tennessee came first in assaults, with 479 out of every 100,000 Tennessee residents statistically the victim of a serious physical attack. 643 of every 100,000 were the victim of some form of violent crime in 2012. Tennessee also has a high murder rate, with 388 people murdered in Tennessee in 2012. As far as cities go, stay out of Memphis, which ranks as the 5th city in the USA. Nashville isn’t a great destination either if you like safety – it ranks 18th for violence.
It is worth bearing in mind that looking at crime as a statewide thing isn’t necessarily the best way to judge things. Certainly, you are probably safer in Anchorage than parts of LA, however because of the size of California and the relative peacefulness of much of it, LA’s crime stats aren’t enough to bring the number of crimes per 100,000 people up to a level where they make the top 10. If you are thinking of visiting or moving to a new state it is better to get an idea of crime stats at a local rather than statewide level if this is a concern for you.