Hometown Safety: Calculating the Cost of Crime in America’s Small Cities and Towns
After two years of upheaval due to the pandemic, politics and social unrest, many Americans crave normalcy in 2022. Many Americans fled — or dreamt of fleeing — large cities during COVID-19 surges. Seeking respite in America’s smaller cities and towns has its appeal, but how much safer are small towns in reality?
To test the theory that small cities and towns are the safest places in America, MoneyGeek analyzed crime statistics by quantifying the cost of crime and ranking small cities and towns nationwide and in every state. This analysis followed MoneyGeek’s previous ranking of the safest large cities in America.
- The cost of crime for small cities increased by 12% from 2019 to 2020, the latest data available. The average U.S. city saw a 15% increase in the cost of crime during the same period.
- The safest town in the U.S. is Buffalo Grove, Illinois. While this city is located in the Midwest, most of the top safest small cities are found in the Northeast.
- Small cities and towns are twice as safe as big cities. Our analysis found that the median cost of crime in cities and towns with populations between 30,000 and 100,000 was $640, compared to cities with populations over 100,000, where the median cost of crime was $1,320.
- However, a small city or town can be just as dangerous as a large city. The cost of crime per capita in Petersburg, Virginia, is $9,022, nearly as high as St. Louis, Missouri, where the per capita cost of crime is $11,574. Federal Way, Washington (pop. 97,071), has a cost of crime per capita of $1,203, comparable to New York City ($1,204).
Calculating the Cost of Crime
Crime takes a toll on communities — not just emotionally but also economically. In addition to direct costs from property loss, services for victims and policing and corrections, residents of higher-crime locales often pay higher rates on car insurance, homeowners insurance and renters insurance insurance.
To quantify the cost of crime in smaller cities and towns, MoneyGeek analyzed crime data and calculated the cost of crime in each place. We included data on violent crimes — such as murder, rape and aggravated assault — and property crimes — such as burglaries and car theft. Though property crimes are much more common, violent crimes are more costly.
The Safest Small Cities and Towns in America
More than 50 million Americans live in small cities and towns, but just how safe is small-town America? MoneyGeek analyzed crime statistics and quantified the cost of those crimes to identify the safest and least safe small cities and towns — those with 30,000 to 100,000 residents.
Most of the safest small cities and towns in America are in the Northeast or Midwest, with four of the top ten cities in New York or New Jersey, three in Illinois and three in Massachusetts. The least safe towns are more distributed throughout the country, with Petersburg, Virginia at the top.
25 Safest Small Cities and Towns in America
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- CityCrime Cost per Capita
- 1.Buffalo Grove, IL$22
- 2.Franklin, MA$32
- 3.Carmel Town, NY$35
- 4.Shrewsbury, MA$38
- 5.Bartlett, IL$39
The Safest Town in Every State
Crime Cost per Capita
Oro Valley, AZ
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA
Castle Rock, CO
Are Small Cities and Towns Safer Than Big Cities?
Many people assume that small cities and towns are safer than big cities. MoneyGeek sought to test that assumption.
Lining up the data for large and small cities, we found that small cities and towns do tend to be safer than large cities. However, the distribution of crime costs also shows a significant overlap between crime costs in large cities and smaller cities and towns. In that overlap, small and large cities may have the same per capita cost of crime.
The data show many unsafe small cities and towns with crime levels comparable to their big-city counterparts.
For example, the per capita cost of crime in the least safe small and large cities is comparable. In Petersburg, Virginia, the least safe small city, the per capita cost of crime is $9,022, nearly as high as St. Louis, Missouri, where the per capita cost of crime is $11,574. Federal Way, Washington (pop. 97,071) has a cost of crime per capita of $1,203, comparable to New York City (pop. 8.4 million), which has a cost of crime per capita of $1,204.
While the safest places to live tend to be smaller, there is not a perfect correlation between population size and crime levels.
What makes a city or town safe? We consulted experts from a range of disciplines for their insights on the factors that impact safety in cities big and small and contribute to a community’s real or perceived safety. All views and opinions expressed are those of the contributors.
- Why are small cities and towns perceived to be safer than large cities? Are those perceptions accurate?
- What programs or strategies do smaller cities and towns use to maintain safety and reduce the cost of crime in their communities?
- Why are some smaller cities and towns less safe? Beyond the size of a community, what factors influence safety?
- How are changing demographics and trends such as urban flight likely to impact life in smaller cities and towns in the future?
Founder of Digi.City
Deputy Chief of Police in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana
Vice President Stantec Urban Places Fellow, FAIA
To rank the safest small cities and towns in the United States, MoneyGeek started with standardized crime statistics reported to the FBI. To determine crime rates per 100,000 people, population data accessed from the FBI was added to the analysis. For purposes of this analysis, MoneyGeek focused on cities with a population between 30,000 and 100,000 residents.
MoneyGeek relied on research by professors Kathryn McCollister and Michael French of the University of Miami and Hai Fang of the University of Colorado Denver to determine the cost of crime to society. Their findings were integrated into the broader data set to better understand the societal cost of crime within individual cities.
Full Data Set
Safest Cities Rank
Crime Cost per Capita
Violent Crime Rate
Property Crime Rate
Cost of Crime ($000s)
Buffalo Grove, IL
Carmel Town, NY
About the Author
- Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Offenses Known to Law Enforcement - By State By City." Accessed December 19, 2021.
- Kathryn E. McCollister, Michael T. French and Hal Fang, Drug and Alcohol Dependence. "The Cost of Crime to Society: New Crime-Specific Estimates for Policy and Program Evaluation." Accessed December 19, 2021.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. "The Cost of Crime to Society." Accessed December 19, 2021.