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Crime-Ridden Cities: Is Your City’s Crime Concern Justified?

Key Takeaways

  • St. Louis, Missouri, is the most crime-ridden city in America, with the highest number of crimes per 100,000 residents; Cary, North Carolina, is the least.
  • Portland, Oregon, is the most crime-concerned city, with 5,595 mentions of crime on their subreddit per 10,000 users.
  • Aurora, Colorado, has seen a 140% increase in violent crimes since 2010.
  • Mobile, Alabama, has seen the largest decrease in violent crimes since 2010, with an 80% decrease.
A pickpocketer taking someone's phone out of their back pocket.

City living and crime

Crime rates tend to be higher in cities — that’s just part of the price one pays for the perks of city life. City dwellers often turn to online communities to discuss and stay up to date on crime in their vicinity. But how accurate are their perceptions of crime compared to the actual crime rates? To find out, we compared the FBI’s city-by-city crime data against the online discussions about crime within each city’s Reddit forum (aka subreddit), cross-referencing to see how much of the chatter is justified and which parts are just noise.

The highest crime rates

Lots of cities have bad reputations, but do they all deserve it? First, let’s look at which cities were actually hotspots for crime.

While cities may have higher crime rates than small towns, they’re not all dangerous. We based our rankings of America’s most crime-ridden cities on the highest number of crimes reported per 100,000 residents in each locale. Based on our data collection, the Midwest was home to four of the top 10 most crime-ridden cities: St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, and Springfield.

Three cities in the South also ranked high: Memphis, New Orleans, and Little Rock. Two western cities — Las Vegas and Oakland — rounded out our list of most dangerous cities. The East Coast, home to many of our nation’s most bustling cities, claimed only one of the top 10: Baltimore. Home of the celebrated crime drama series “The Wire,” which aired 20 years ago, Baltimore has a long-standing reputation for crime.

When looking at specific types of crime, however, the most significant hotspots were spread even wider across the U.S. In the Midwest, St. Louis had the most homicides per capita (90). In the South, Memphis had the most violent crimes and aggravated assaults, but Montgomery, Alabama, had the least occurrences of rape, and Cape Coral, Florida, had the fewest robberies. Western cities experience the most robberies (Oakland), burglaries (Seattle), larcenies (Salt Lake City), and car thefts (Oakland).

Although the West Coast was home to a handful of cities with the highest rate of certain types of crime, it boasted several others with the lowest crime rates. We found the fewest violent crimes and homicides per capita in Irvine, California, and the fewest cases of larceny per capita in Fontana, California. And while none of the East Coast cities held the highest rate of any particular crime, Arlington, Virginia, had the least amount of burglary and aggravated assault.

Talking about crime

Almost every American city has a subreddit where locals and outsiders discuss crime in the area — or their perception thereof. Which cities’ residents have talked about crime the most, and which crimes have gotten the most attention in these forums?

Information about which cities' residents talk about crime the most online.

When it comes to online crime discussions, Portlanders were the most chatty. City residents made 5,595 mentions of crime per 10,000 subreddit users and used the term “violence” 74% above the national average. The Midwest was also especially talkative on Reddit about local crime, with four of the top 10 cities located there (Minneapolis, Chicago, Columbus, and Milwaukee). Notably, Minneapolis residents spoke of “murder” 74% above the national average, while Milwaukeean chats about “theft” were 101% above average.

Two southern cities also talked frequently about crime, Louisville with 3,832 mentions per 10,000 users and Memphis with 2,934. The only Northeast city to make the top 10 was Philadelphia. The city of Brotherly Love also spoke of “violence” 26% more than usual.

As for other crime terms, the city most concerned about assault was Boston, with 62% more mentions of the word “assault” than the national average. Rape was the most major concern in Tulsa (+171%), and robbery was most talked about in San Francisco (+143%). Redditors in Denver were most troubled by theft (+112%). On the other hand, many Texans weren’t too vocal online about crime. Arlington, El Paso, and Fort Worth residents had the least crime mentions per 10,000 subreddit users, each numbering under 600.

Crime perceptions vs. reality

City-specific subreddits across the country are filled with posts about crime. But in which cities were these concerns legitimate, and in which ones did perceptions of crime differ from reality? To determine this, we created an index of fear-to-crime ratios by dividing the total number of each city’s crime posts on Reddit by the total number of actual crimes in that city.

Information about whether people's crime hysteria is justified.

We found the most significant difference between the level of crime fear and the actual crime rate in Columbus, Ohio’s capital city. Basically, Columbus-area Redditors were the most afraid of crime while having the least cause for it, making almost 20 mentions of crime to every one crime actually committed. Despite being the city with the seventh-most crime mentions per 10,000 users, Columbus didn’t make any of our top 10 lists of crime rates — it actually ranked 62nd overall.

Similarly, Oregon’s Rose City — Portland — turned out to be a bed of roses compared to the sentiments of its Redditors, who were also overly concerned about crime relative to their local crime rate. While their fear-to-crime ratio was less than half that of Columbus, with eight mentions of crime per each crime committed, Portland’s subreddits contained the most mentions of crime. Memphis was the only city where the online hype matched the actual crime rates, as it made the top 10 list of the most crime mentions in their city’s subreddits and the top 10 list of the most crime-ridden cities.

On the other end of the spectrum, Las Vegas residents perhaps haven’t been talking about their city’s crime enough. With the least online mentions of crime per every actual crime committed there, people in Las Vegas are either unaware of or unbothered by the crime in their city. Likewise, subreddits associated with Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Jacksonville, and El Paso had very few mentions of crime compared to the number of crimes committed there.

Being realistic about crime

Alongside the increase in violent crime across the U.S. in recent years, online conversations showed that citizens’ fear of crime has also been very high. Strangely though, residents’ fears seemed to have little correlation with actual crime statistics. Cities with relatively low crime statistics had subreddits buzzing with crime chatter, while those with higher crime statistics barely mentioned it.

These inverse relationships lead one to wonder: Has fearing crime led to increased safety measures and resource allocations to prevent it? Has ignorance of or apathy toward crime decreased the drive to fight it? Whatever the reasons for the disconnect, one can safely say that to understand crime in your area, look to statistics — not subreddits. Whether you live in a city with a high or low crime rate, find peace of mind with a custom Vivint smart home security system.

Let’s be neighbors.

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We compiled data from the FBI crime data explorer to see where the most crime incidents occurred. We then scraped over 964,000 Reddit posts and comments from the past two years to find which cities were the most concerned about crime.

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