Photo by Adam Katz/flickr

After spiking in the 1980s, crime rates in the United States – for both violent and property crimes – fell significantly in the last two decades. In particular, the rate of violent crime (murder, rape, aggravated assault and burglary) by 2012 had dropped to less than half what it was in 1991, according to FBI data (from 758 violent crimes per 100,000 Americans to 387). And although a disproportionately high level of violent crime still occurs in densely populated urban areas, many of America’s big cities experienced similar downward trends. That includes the nation’s two largest metropolises — New York and Los Angeles — both of which had precipitous drops in violent crime.

Ask a room full of criminologists to explain the cause of this decrease and you’ll likely get a room full of conflicting answers. From policing strategies and demographic trends to poverty levels and investment in community services, theories abound as to what factors lead to spikes and drops in a city’s crime rate. It’s a conundrum of particular concern for cities with crime rates that have remained stubbornly high, despite the national downward trend. The chart below shows the 10 cities with the highest violent crime rates in the country, based on 2012 data, as measured by the number of violent crimes per 100,000 population. Figures are taken from the FBI’s most recent Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics – and ranked by the site Law Street. The second chart compares the dramatic violent crime reductions in Los Angeles and New York, with the stagnantly high rates in Oakland and Detroit. Note that some but not all of the cities with the highest violent crime rates also shared the dubious distinction of having among the highest murder rates in the country. These included Flint, Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore, Oakland and Birmingham (the bottom chart lists the top 20 cities). But a number of other cities with some of the nation’s highest murder rates, including New Orleans and Jackson, had much lower rates of total violent crime.

One caveat: although the FBI’s crime reporting system offers the most definitive set of U.S. crime data, it does present some statistical issues. For one, some police precincts categorize some types of simple assault as a violent crime, while others do not. Additionally, some large cities have broad boundaries that may include safer, suburban areas, thus skewing the overall crime profile of that city, particularly if most of the crime is concentrated in its center. All data in these charts are taken from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics, with rates calculated per 100,000 population.

  • David Dacus

    Since Stockton is an hour and fifteen minutes from Oakland, to call it a bay area city is QUITE a stretch!

    • diana

      David is correct. Stockton is in a county which is NOT part of the 9 Bay Area counties. It is not a part of the bay area.

      • OwenRay

        Yup, Stockton is Central Valley, not Bay Area.

    • Eamon Banta

      Did someone say it was part of the Bay Area? If so, maybe i missed it or it got edited. In any case, there is at least one definition of the Bay Area that includes Stockton:


  • Oaklander4Life

    Its unfair to label Oakland as one of the most unsafe places in America. 99% of homicides in Oakland are either gang related or drug related … there is that 1% of being in the wrong place at the wrong time that’s just unfortunate.
    I don’t really consider most of the muggings and thefts and rubberies violent. just don’t be dumb and give away whatever that criminal is after and it won’t escalate into a violent crime. remember , nothing is worth your life. things are replaceable.
    there is a huge income inequality in Oakland, so , there will be property crimes no matter what. we have 2 million dollars homes and half millions dollar condos and lofts

    5-10 minutes away from the hood. its a price that we have to pay for living in such a diverse, vibrate city with 112 different languages and access to 30-40 different ethnic cuisines and arguably the best weather in America. i lived here for most of my life and i am willing to pay it.

    • Sarah

      Get a dictionary. The city vibrates?

      • Sarah’s a c*nt

        STFU you grammar naz* . go back to your cave , & play with your vibrator

  • Hill rider

    I have lived in Oakland for the past 28 years. Before that I lived in Washington D.C. for about 7 years. I have also lived in Paris and other parts of Europe. And I lived in San Francisco in the sixties. And I have spent a fair amount of time in New York. My point being that having lived in a lot of places, and I know that every city has its problems with violence and crime. If you choose to live in an urban environment, you must be smart and aware that it can be dangerous, and you have to be selective about what, where, and who you allow to be close. It’s called using common sense. Most of the violence in Oakland is gang on gang related stuff. It’s true that unfortunate things do happen on occasion, and innocents suffer, but that is not the norm. Moving to Oakland was like a ‘move to the country’ compared to living in D.C.. I love this city and I feel lucky to have a home here.

    • g

      are you in law enforcement. how the fuck do you know its not “the norm”. Oakland is a dangerous place.

  • mackey

    All y’all that’s saying “gang on gang” violence let me ask a question? What gangs are out there in Oakland? Lol

    • disqus_jBKicsaHjn

      What are you talking about?

    • jonjon

      Black guerilla family.ghostownuts.acorn.cambellvill.cypressville 24vill.dogtown.miltonstreet.meadstreet.sycamorestreet.the jets.momohouses.bushrod.54th.57th. Pteam.circleboys.funktown.murderdoves.50s.65vill.66vill.the mob.lockwoodgardens.dirtypeoples.70s.greenside.80s.90s.birch st.sobrantepark.nuestafamilia.38th st locos.Norte 14.stonecitykillas.the100s.Kumi 415 African nation.high st bankboys.just to name a few.many more that I did not mention.u don’t want no problems.if u come to oakland and u try a get active in this mob life these bay boys will come see u.and it ain’t goin be no talkin all u goin hear is them pistols barking….born in raised in oakland…home of the blackpanthers.blackguerillafamily. hellsangels. kumi.the oakland raiders.2pac.tooshort.macdre.yukmouth.E40.Jacka.keisha cole.keak the sneak.

    • Baiboy

      Right there is no gangs in all of Oakland…East,west,or Ice city….we mobb N Oakland wear wtf u like in my city….town bizz

      • DJO

        Right. I live here and I’ve never had a problem wearing whatever I want in Oakland. Not saying there aren’t any gangs, but we got pro teams with colors around here and we’re not that ignorant. Actually been away for a while and came back. Place has cleaned up… A lot. It’s actually looking presentable around here, and I think it will keep getting better.

        Lived all over the Bay Area. Basically, the “don’t start none, won’t be none” rule is always the best way to stay out of trouble around here, because we hear the shots ring out daily. It’s the same problems you see regurgitated in every major city. On the whole though, most people are pretty decent out here. I have had no problems at all striking up a conversation with strangers on the street.

        Now if you go out to Modesto or Stockton, you might run into some gangs out there. I was out that way for Khmer New Year last year and was shadowed by a group of police officers, because I was wearing all blue and they’ve had problems with that in the past during that event. I think they were shadowing me to protect me though, not because they thought I was affiliated.

  • Tom

    I love how some commenters are willing to dismiss violent crime assuming its gang-related. Are those victims not people? I’ve lived in Oakland for 8 years, and I would very much like see my city’s name never appear on one of these lists again someday.

  • JVC

    Unfortunately, the stats do not include our outlying territories. If they did, we would discover the pure mayhem that we have in places like the U.S. Virgin Islands.

  • Rebecca

    Happy to see my birthplace, Camden, finally off the list.

  • Detroit WWarren


    Detroit Stand UP.

    • Detroit JoyRd West5ide

      Hannnn JoyRd in this Hoe – West5ide Piru #Wh59P #WhA1P ¢Krip KillA All Day Detroit the Murder Kap Fuk €hi-Raq

  • Haw Haw

    If you compare the # of Oakland gang related murders to SF’s pedestrian fatalities, then you’ll see they are pretty close. The problem with SF is that pedestrian fatalities can hit anybody of any race, age or socio-economic background.

    But of course the mainstream media (including KQED) won’t mention that.

    Which city do you feel safer in?

  • Chris Brown

    Booty meat

  • James R.

    It’s not a surprise to see Philadelphia on this list either. Walking around here can be a gamble with your life sometimes and the people can be outright rude.

    • Paul Walker is – Man on Fire 1

      Its the 5th largest city in the US mo ron. More people, more crime.

      • Carlos Coreno

        Actually its more minority=more poverty/ghetto=more crime

  • MsNorthlight

    Must be all those darn video games!

  • Dezmond Williams

    They forgot Houston Texas Watts California and South Central Los Angeles.

  • Dezmond Williams

    Houston, Watts and South Central Los Angeles should be in the top five.

  • Slick Willy

    Nice to see Little Rock AR having something to be proud of.


Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email: mgreen@kqed.org; Twitter: @KQEDlowdown

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