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11 Most Violent Cities in America

Updated on November 22, 2018
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Kelley studies social issues, including crime, punishment, the Drug War, and America's criminal justice system.

Mural in Chicago's Logan Square
Mural in Chicago's Logan Square

Should anyone have to live in such dangerous places?

Since peaking in 2007, violent crime has decreased in the United States, a statistic that the average person may not notice given the apparent high number of violent crimes in any particular city. Since the media tends to cover gruesome crimes, such as mass murders, people may think America is about to explode with horrendous violence, which almost certainly won’t happen any time soon, if ever, though natural disasters or man-made ones, as well as socioeconomic factors could change matters dramatically.

Please note this list only includes cities with a population of over 100,000 people, since this number is often used in crime statistics. Also, each city generally has the highest rate of violent crime in each particular state, as well as one of the highest rates in the nation overall.

Also, this list is not necessarily in the exact order it should be, though all of these cities are certainly some of the worst in terms of the incidence of violent crime, particularly murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults.

Please keep reading!

11. Anchorage, Alaska

Statistics show that Anchorage, Alaska has 837 violent crimes per 100,000 people, a higher rate than the average in both Alaska and in the U.S. Moreover, Anchorage has a higher rate of sexual assaults compared to the rest of the country - 90 per 100,000, compared to 27 per 100,000 throughout the country. Tragically, Alaska natives are victimized by violent crime more than other racial and ethnic groups in Anchorage. Overall, the probability of a person becoming a victim of violent crime in Anchorage is one in 124.

10. Cleveland, Ohio

According to the Morgan Quito Press, a research and publishing company based in Lawrence, Kansas, Cleveland ranked as the eleventh most dangerous city in the country in 2008, an increase of violent crime of 10 per cent. In more recent years, the homicide rate dropped 30 percent, though it remains well above the national average. Overall, Cleveland’s rate of violent crime is more than twice as much as that of the state of Ohio, as well as the national average. Moreover, in October 2010, Cleveland had two neighborhoods on the list of America’s 25 Most Dangerous Neighborhoods, as compiled by ABC News. Gang activity and the use of crack cocaine have wreaked havoc in these blighted areas.

9. Stockton, California

The city of Stockton has numerous problems. It has claimed bankruptcy, the rate of unemployment is much higher than the state average and - because of budget cuts - law enforcement has been greatly reduced. In fact, this reduction in the police force could be a reason Stockton’s rate of violent crime – 1,417 violent crimes per 100,000 people – is well above the national average. Moreover, Stockton’s rate of 22 murders per 100,000 persons is also greatly above the national average of 4.7. Interestingly, Stockton rests within San Joaquin County, which has the fifth highest crime rate in the country. Theorists suggest its proximity to Interstate 5 makes Stockton a center for drug trafficking from Mexico all the way into southwestern Canada.

8. Memphis, Tennessee

Considered a headquarters for gangs in the southern states, Memphis has upwards of 200 different gangs, comprising thousands of members. Back in 2005, according to the FBI’s annual crime rankings, Memphis was number two in the country for the rate of violent crime in major cities, and in 2006 it reached the number one spot. From that time onward Memphis has been listed as one of the most dangerous cities in America. Moreover, as is the case with many cities on this infamous list, Memphis, Tennessee has a rate of violent crime that’s well above the average for the state and the country.

7. Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham’s rate of violent crime is the worst in Alabama and one of the worst in the country. In fact, according to the FBI’s 2007 crime report, Birmingham made the top 10 list of the most violent cities in America. Moreover, in 2011, according to U.S. News and World Report, Birmingham ranked as the third most dangerous city in the country, behind only Atlanta, Georgia and St. Louis, Missouri; and the FBI ranks Birmingham as having the seventh highest murder rate among cities in the U.S. Interestingly, the A&E Network series, The First 48, has filmed portions of shows with some of Birmingham’s homicide detectives.

Boardwalk in Atlantic City
Boardwalk in Atlantic City

6. Atlantic City, New Jersey

As a city known for its gambling – casino gaming was legalized in 1976 – perhaps it’s understandable that New Jersey would have a high rate of violent crime. Be that as it may, the rate of violent crime in Atlantic City has ranged up and down since the late 1990s, peaking at over 2,000 incidents per 100,000 people in 2007, according to the website, City Rating. Currently, the incidence of violent crime in the city is one in 53 people, compared to one in 324 in the state of New Jersey. By the way, the national median is a rate of 3.9. Moreover, the overall felonious crime rate in New Jersey is considerably higher than the national average – 478.3 per 100,000 people, compared to 307.5 nationally.

Oakland fire, December 2016
Oakland fire, December 2016

5. Oakland, California

Oakland’s crime rate has generally risen since the late 1960s. In fact, by the late 1970s, Oakland’s per capita murder rate was twice that of both San Francisco and New York City. Moreover, during the first decade of the twenty-first century, Oakland was often listed among the most dangerous cities in the U.S. But the homicide rate dropped somewhat in 2010, though it was still more than twice that of California and the national average. Then, in 2012, there were 131 reported homicides in Oakland. Compounding the problem, Oakland, like many cities in California in recent times, has reduced its police force because of budget cuts.

4. Detroit, Michigan

Over the years, Detroit has acquired many nicknames – Motown, the D-Town, City of Champions, the Motor City and, lastly, the Murder City. Lending credence to the latter nickname, Detroit’s rate of violent crime was nearly 2,500 per 100,000 people in 2006. One may think it shouldn’t be quite so bad there now, since Detroit’s population has declined by 25 per cent since 2010, mainly because of the decline in the city’s automobile industry, but this doesn’t appear to be the case. In fact, according to CBS News, in 2010 Detroit was declared the most dangerous city in the country for the fourth year in a row. Incidentally, the city had 310 murders that year. As a consequence, in 2012 car insurance rates increased because of the city’s high crime rate, and the rate of unsolved murders was 70 per cent!

3. St. Louis, Missouri

CQ Press often lists St. Louis among the most dangerous cities in the U.S. In 2005, St. Louis had a rate of violent crime of 2,500 people per 100,000, though this very high rate has gone down in recent years (2,070 in 2009, compared to the national average of 429.4.), but the city’s violent crime rate ranked higher than the average for all cities in the country. In fact, in both 2011 and 2012, St. Louis reported 113 homicides, producing a rate of 35.3 people per 100,000. Along with many other municipalities across the U.S., St. Louis has had to reduce the size of its police force, perhaps encouraging criminals to break the law.

2. Flint, Michigan

Plagued by violent crime for many years, Flint, Michigan had more than 2,500 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2006, and this crime wave, if you will, has continued for years, with the FBI reporting that Flint had the fifth highest violent crime rate in America in 2009. Tragically, in 2010, Flint broke its own homicide record with 64 murders (in 2010 Flint’s population was 102,434.). In 2011, a poll conducted by 24/7 Wall Street listed Flint and the most dangerous city in the U.S. Then, in 2012, Forbes magazine listed Flint as the sixth most violent city for women in America. And in 2012, the FBI ranked Flint as the second most violent city per capita for cities with a population over 50,000. At the very least, for small cities, Flint is definitely the most violent city in the U.S.

Chicago funeral after a murder
Chicago funeral after a murder

1. Chicago, Illinois

Chicago’s murder rate is considerably higher these days than during the Roaring Twenties, when notorious gangsters such as Al Capone sprayed hot lead from Tommy guns (the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre happened in February 1929). Interestingly, there were no gun control laws in those days, but now there are. Unfortunately, such laws seem to be failing in Chicago, a gangland far worse than the reputed “bad old days” of the 1920s. (Chicago is considered the most gang-filled city in the U.S.) Moreover, having gone up steadily since 2014, Chicago’s murder rate soared 72 per cent in early 2016. In fact, by September 2016, Chicago had seen 500 murders and over 3,000 shootings. The murder rate is the highest it’s been since the 1970s, when 970 homicides were recorded in 1974. These troubling statistics lead one to wonder: Have the bad old days ever left Chicago?

Please leave a comment.

© 2013 Kelley Marks


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