America’s Most Dangerous Cities

Zack O’Malley Greenburg, Forbes, April 24, 2009

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Unfortunately for the Motor City, [the former mayor, Kwame] Kilpatrick, 38, is just one ripple in the area’s sea of crime. Detroit is the worst offender on our list of America’s most dangerous cities, thanks to a staggering rate of 1,220 violent crimes committed per 100,000 people.

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Detroit was followed closely on the list by the greater Memphis, Tenn., and Miami, Fla., metropolitan areas. Those three were the only large cities in America with more than 950 violent crimes committed per 100,000 people.

Behind the Numbers

To determine our list, we used violent crime statistics from the FBI’s latest uniform crime report, issued in 2008. The violent crime category is composed of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. We evaluated U.S. metropolitan statistical areas–geographic entities defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for use by federal agencies in collecting, tabulating and publishing federal statistics–with more than 500,000 residents.

Though nationwide crime was down 3.5% year over year in the first six months of 2008, the cities atop our list illustrate a disturbing trend: All 10 of the most dangerous cities were among those identified by the Department of Justice as transit points for Mexican drug cartels.

Run by crime lords like Joaquin Guzman Lorea, these gangs–and their violent turf wars–are spreading into the American Southwest and beyond. Places like Stockton, Calif., nearly 500 miles from Tijuana, have seen an uptick in related violent crime.

“Stockton is a major transit point along the I-5 corridor on the way to Seattle and Vancouver,” says Wolfram. “A lot of it is similar to crime happening in the Southwest. For the most part, it’s drug gang on drug gang.”

Motown Blues

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Detroit isn’t the only city on the list that’s suffering from abandonment issues.

In Las Vegas, Nev., for example, the housing boom created loads of excess inventory. When the market tanked, homeowners suddenly found themselves with properties worth far less than the mortgages they’d taken out. In the worst cases, banks foreclosed, leaving people without homes–and with more debt than they’d had to begin with. As a result, Sin City is even emptier than Detroit.

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Few Signs of Improvement

Making matters more difficult, as municipal budgets shrink during this recession, crime-fighting funds are often among the first casualties.

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Top 5 Most Dangerous Cities:

No. 1 Detroit, Mich.

(Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, Mich., metropolitan statistical area)

Population: 1,951,186

Violent Crimes per 100,000: 1,220

No. 2 Memphis, Tenn.

(Memphis, Tenn.-Miss.-Ark. metropolitan statistical area)

Population: 1,295,670

Violent Crimes per 100,000: 1,218

No. 3. Miami, Fla.

(Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, Fla. metropolitan statistical area)

Population: 2,401,971

Violent Crimes per 100,000: 988

No. 4 Las Vegas, Nev.

(Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., metropolitan statistical area)

Population: 1,834,533

Violent Crimes per 100,000: 887

No. 5 Stockton, Calif.

(Stockton, Calif., metropolitan statistical area)

Population: 684,406

Violent Crimes per 100,000: 885

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