Most dangerous U.S. cities

Crime rates inched slightly higher in 2011. Here are the cities that reported the highest rates of murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary and car theft, according to CQ Press’ annual analysis of FBI data.

Detroit

Crime index*: 4.71
Population: 713,239
Murder rate (per 100,000): 48.2

Motor City claimed the top spot for highest overall crime rate among cities with 250,000 or more residents, according to CQ Press’ annual analysis of FBI data for 2011.

With 342 murders in 2011, Detroit trailed only New Orleans in terms of homicide rate. And the city reported the highest rate of assaults out of any other major city.

The FBI warns that ranking cities based on crime data can be misleading because each city reports crimes differently and some crimes go unreported.

However, an increase in crime can have a significant negative impact on a population, according to a 2009 study by the Furman Center for Real Estate & Urban Policy at New York University. And Detroit’s unsafe streets are aggravating the city’s struggle to maintain its already-dwindling population, which has shrunk by 25% since 2000.

St. Louis

Crime index*: 3.63
Population: 320,454
Murder rate (per 100,000): 35.3

Even though it still ranks second on the most dangerous cities list, St. Louis is a lot safer than it used to be. Murders have been cut in half over the past two decades — as have the numbers for other violent crimes.

Still, at about 35 murders per 100,000 residents in 2011, St. Louis claims the third highest homicide rate of any major city.

One reason St. Louis’s crime rate is so high is that the city has not grown beyond its very constricted borders, according to criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Other cities have expanded outward by swallowing up safer nearby communities, which helps dilute the overall crime stats. Oklahoma City’s reporting area, for example, is nearly 10 times the size of St. Louis’.

If the safer St. Louis suburbs were counted into its crime statistics, the overall crime rate for St. Louis would be much lower.

Oakland, Calif.

Crime index*: 3.49
Population: 395,317
Murder rate (per 100,000): 26.3

Gang violence is one of the biggest issues plaguing Oakland, according to a report published in 2012 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Homicides jumped 15% to 104 in 2011. Robbery is another big problem: Oakland leads all large cities in robbery with 851 robberies per 100,000 residents.

Cleveland

Crime index*: 3.09
Population: 397,106
Murder rate (per 100,000): 18.6

Burglaries were one of the biggest issues facing Cleveland residents in 2011, with the number of break-ins and thefts climbing by 8.6% from the previous year. That gave the city the second highest burglary rate in the country — next to Toledo, Ohio.

Street crimes — robberies and assaults — also continued to soar, with Cleveland second only to Oakland among the nation’s 72 largest cities.

One area of improvement: The number of murders fell to 74, from 81 the year before.

New Orleans

Crime index*: 2.84
Population: 346,974
Murder rate (per 100,000): 57.6

In 2010, incoming mayor Mitch Landrieu cited a “systematic failure” of New Orleans’ police department for its inability to bring down the city’s soaring homicide rate.

“The police department is supposed to protect and serve, but right now it’s not doing either of those things well,” he said in a CNN interview when he first took office in 2010. “My top priority is to make this city safe. It can’t be safe without a police department that people trust.”

There’s still a lot of work to be done. The city’s murder rate is 20% higher than Detroit and nine times higher than cities like New York and San Francisco. The number of killings in the Big Easy jumped to 199 in 2011 from 175 the year before.

Newark, N.J.

Crime index*: 2.82
Population: 278,064
Murder rate (per 100,000): 33.8

Newark’s crime record appeared to be on the upswing a few years ago. March 2010 marked its first murder-free month in more than 40 years and shootings were down for three back-to-back years, falling 75% through 2009, Mayor Cory Booker told CNN in a televised interview.

But then budget constraints sparked by the recession forced the city to lay off one-sixth of its police force.

The rate of violent crime rose by more than 11% in 2011 compared with 2010. Street crimes spiked, with robberies up 23% and the city’s robbery rate ranked third highest among the nation’s cities.

Atlanta

Crime index*: 2.66
Population: 425,533
Murder rate (per 100,000): 20.7

In Atlanta, violent crimes have been a particular problem. Aggravated assaults, typically attacks with deadly weapons, were up 3% since 2010, to the fifth-highest rate among U.S. cities. Robberies jumped by even more, up 8%.

But there were signs of improvement in some areas. There were five fewer murders in 2011 and property crimes edged slightly lower.

Baltimore

Crime index*: 2.61
Population: 626,848
Murder rate (per 100,000): 31.3

Labeled a “high-intensity” drug trafficking area by the Department of Justice, Baltimore has seen an increase in gang-related activity over the past several years.

The city recorded 196 murders in 2011 — the fifth highest murder rate in the nation — and roughly 70% of the victims were involved in the drug trade, according to the Baltimore Police Department.

The city also landed in the top 10 for both robberies (ranking seventh) and assaults (placing ninth).

Memphis, Tenn.

Crime index*: 2.28
Population: 652,725
Murder rate (per 100,000): 17.9

Memphis has grown into a sprawling city, encompassing more than 324 square miles. More than half of the metro-area residents live within city limits, which include many safe suburbs.

Despite that fact, Memphis still has a major crime problem, with a murder rate that is nearly four times the national average.

Street crime is also bad with robberies common and the city claiming the third highest aggravated assault rate in the country.

Kansas City, Mo.

Crime index*: 2.13
Population: 461,456
Murder rate (per 100,000): 23.4

Overall, Kansas City’s violent crime rate is the ninth highest among big cities.

Aggravated assaults were prominent among the city’s police reports and unfortunately, so were murders. Kansas City reported 108 murders in 2011, up from 102 the year before. That gave it the dubious honor of ranking seventh highest among the nation’s big cities in terms of homicide rate.

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