When you see small towns on TV and in movies, they’re almost always idyllic places where the American dream is thriving and neighbors all know each other. That, and unless you’re watching a whodunnit, no one’s ever the victim of a crime.
In reality, small cities are surprisingly similar to all the others, meaning that there are good ones and bad. We thought we’d switch gears today and look the small cities where crime is a real concern.
After studying more than 200 small cities, we’ve concluded that Wilmington, DE is the most dangerous in terms of crime. It’s joined in this dubious honor by nine other places to comprise our 10 most dangerous small cities in America:
- Wilmington, DE
- Canton, OH
- Jackson, TN
- Rocky Mount, NC
- North Little Rock, AR
- Pensacola, FL
- Daytona Beach, FL
- Homestead, FL
- Lauderhill, FL
- Warner Robins, GA
Florida accounted for the single largest share of cities in the top 10, with four. It’s interesting to note that all 10 are either in the Midwestern, Mid-Atlantic, or Southern regions of the country.
You can read more about the top 10 most dangerous below, and see a ranking of the 50 most dangerous at the end of this post. Next, we’ll go over our methodology for building this ranking.
How We Created This Report
To produce this ranking, we first decided on a list of small cities between 50,000 and 75,000 residents in size. After eliminating those without available crime data, we were left with a list of 234 places to study.
Using data from the FBI’s 2012 uniform crime report, the latest available, we measured seven distinct crimes using the total reported incidents of each:
- Motor vehicle theft
We separated these crimes into four groups: murders, violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery, and assault), property crimes (burglary, theft, and motor vehicle theft), and total crimes. The cities were then ranked on the incidents of each group per 100,000 residents per year, from 1 to 234, with a higher score being more dangerous. We calculated the number of crimes per 100,000 residents for 2012 in order to have a level playing field on which to compare cities with varying population sizes.
The individual rankings (murders, violent crimes, property crimes and total crimes) were then weighted to create a final overall score. Murders, violent crimes, and property crimes each comprised 30 percent of the total, while total crimes made up 10 percent. The higher this combined score, the more dangerous the city.
Below, you’ll find a breakdown of how each of the 10 most dangerous small cities fared when judged on these criteria.
1. Wilmington, DE
The most dangerous small city we studied, Wilmington is on the larger end of our range with a population of just over 72,000. Despite the efforts of local authorities, which have included placing the city’s entire downtown area under CCTV surveillance and other aggressive tactics, crime continues to be a serious problem in Wilmington. It topped the list in terms of violent crime, outranking 233 other cities for this dubious honor, with 1,703 violent crimes per 100,000 residents.
Wilmington didn’t fare much better in other areas, ranking as the third-most dangerous small city in terms of murder (it saw 26 in 2012) and total crime (5,052 were reported there the same year). The only instance in which it did even slightly better—and then only relatively—was property crimes, where it placed ninth overall for its 5,305 crimes per 100,000.
With a reported 150 shootings by the end of 2013, it would seem that Wilmington has a long way to go before it can be considered a safer place to live.
2. Canton, OH
Ohio is known for lots of things, and thankfully being crime-ridden isn’t one of them. Like most states, though, it has its rough spots, and Canton is one of them. A little more than 50 miles outside of Cleveland, this city made No. 2 on our list with a couple of second-place crime rankings: property crimes and total crimes.
In terms of the former, there were 6,550 property crimes per 100,000 residents there in 2012, and for the latter Canton had 7,562 total crimes per 100,000. Thefts led the list of property crimes, with 2,671 reported that year. Elsewhere in our rankings, Canton placed eighth for murder with 10 in all and eighth for violent crime in general with 1,011 per 100,000 people.
3. Jackson, TN
Named for native Tennessean and America’s seventh President, Andrew Jackson, this city of nearly 66,000 in Madison County has the dubious distinction of placing fourth overall in terms of both murders and violent crimes per 100,000. It earned that first ranking for the 11 murders reported there in 2012; one more than Canton, in fact.
Jackson’s second fourth-place rank came from its 1,348 violent crimes per 100,000 residents that year. It fared substantially better in both property crimes and total crimes per 100,000, where it ranked 16th and 11th, respectively.
4. Rocky Mount, NC
Remember how we said every state has its rough spots? Well, North Carolina is home to places like Cary, NC, which are exceedingly safe, but also those like Rocky Mount, which certainly aren’t. In fact, this city of about 58,000 was the sixth most dangerous we looked at in terms of violent crimes, with 1,039 per 100,000 residents in 2012.
Rocky Mount performed ever-so-slightly better when it came to homicides, where it placed seventh overall with 14 per 100,000. Its rankings for property crimes and total crimes per 100,000 were slightly better. It placed 13th for the former with 4,693 and 12th for the latter with 5,732.
5. North Little Rock, AR
Situated across the Arkansas River from Little Rock, AR proper, North Little Rock is only about 30 percent as large as its namesake but actually has more per capita crime. This city’s 5,920 crimes in 2012 were enough to earn it first place in terms of total crimes, while it also took first in property crimes (there were 5,471 of those).
Fortunately, the city’s violent crime ranking was considerably lower at 26th overall, with 623 crimes per 100,000 residents reported in 2012. Its 13 murders per 100,000 were enough to earn it 12th place for that criterion.
With crime stats like this, it’s no wonder the North Little Rock Police Department has been experimenting with drones for the past few years and has plans to use them over high-crime neighborhoods in the not-too-distant future.
6. Pensacola, FL
Pensacola is the first of four cities in Florida that made our top 10 most dangerous places, which also means it’s the most dangerous of the bunch. It also happens to be the smallest by about 10,000 residents. Despite this, it ranks six places higher than the next-most dangerous small Florida city in terms of murder; Pensacola placed 10th overall in that category with 13 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2012.
As for violent crimes in general, Pensacola placed 19th with 656 per 100,000. For property crime, North Little Rock ranked 23rd, which is actually the second-safest in our top 10, while for total crime it placed 21st; the safest in our top 10 when judged that way.
7. Daytona Beach, FL
Probably best known outside Florida for NASCAR’s annual Daytona 500 race, Daytona Beach is fittingly on the higher end of the scale when it comes to motor vehicle thefts (it had 346 in 2012). In fact, the city ranked eighth overall when it came to property crime, with 5,367 per 100,000 residents. This was just slightly better than its rank for violent crime, where it placed ninth overall.
Daytona Beach placed sixth when it came to total crimes, with 6,359 per 100,000 people. Fortunately, it fared much better in terms of the most serious crime we looked at—Murder—where it ranked 44th overall with six per 100,000 during 2012.
8. Lauderhill, FL
Located just west of Fort Lauderdale, FL, the small city of Lauderhill is the safest place in our top 10 as far as property crimes go. It placed 32nd overall in that criterion, with 4,070 property crimes per 100,000 residents in 2012. For total crimes, it ranked 20th.
Things look worse for the city when violent crimes are considered. Lauderhill saw 814 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2012, a number large enough for it to rank 12th overall. In terms of murders, things weren’t much better; Lauderhill had 12 per 100,000, a 16th-place finish.
8. Homestead, FL
Despite having the second-highest violent crime rate in our top 10, Homestead—a city of almost 63,000 located south of Miami, FL—was fortunately much safer in terms of murder. It was third most dangerous overall for violent crimes, at a rate of 1,450 per 100,000 residents in 2012. For murder, it placed 45th, at six per 100,000 that year.
Homestead was 18th overall for property crime, with 4,461 per 100,000—an overwhelming majority of which were thefts. As for total crimes, the city placed eighth, with a combined crime rate of 5,911 per 100,000 annually.
10. Warner Robins, GA
Home to Robins Air Force Base, Warner Robins has the lowest overall violent crime rank of any city in our top 10, placing 45th most dangerous in that respect, but makes up for this fact when it comes to property crime. The city is sixth overall for burglaries, thefts, and vehicle thefts, with 5,520 property crimes per 100,000 residents in 2012.
The overall crime rate of 6,027 per 100,000 recorded that year was high enough for Warner Robins to be ranked the seventh-most dangerous place in that criterion. As for murder, the city ranked 23rd—not the absolute worst, but with 234 cities in our ranking, certainly nowhere near good.
Safety In Numbers
As we pointed out earlier, the majority of the most dangerous small cities we found are situated in the Mid-Atlantic, Southern, and Midwestern regions of the country. On the flip side, we noted that the safest tended to be divided into two groups: either out West in places like California and Utah or in Minnesota (where there seem to be lots of small cities, for yet-to-be-analyzed reasons).
Lakeville, MN was the safest small city (at 56,805 residents) out of all the ones we looked at, with a diminutive 14 violent crimes per 100,000 residents during the period studied (no murders or rapes were among them). The rest of the top five safest were, in descending order: Lehi, UT, Minnetonka, MN, Laguna Nigel, CA, and Yorba Linda, CA.
So, if you happen to reside in any of the unsafe spots we just covered, your ticket to low-crime living (without changing city size) just might be in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.