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  • Chelsea Collier
    Chelsea Collier

After a year of upheaval due to the pandemic, politics and social unrest, many Americans crave normalcy in 2021. Many Americans fled — or dreamed 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.

More than 50 million Americans living in small cities and towns — those with 30,000 to 100,000 residents — enjoy greater safety, according to our data. But some small cities are as unsafe as larger ones, suggesting that factors beyond population size and density are at play.

Calculating the Cost of Crime

Crime takes a toll on communities — not just emotionally but economically as well. In addition to direct costs from loss of property, services for victims and policing and corrections, residents of higher-crime locales often pay higher rates on car insurance and homeowners 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 on 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

Safest Small Cities and Towns in America 2021 Badge

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, with the top two in Massachusetts and six of the top ten in New York or New Jersey. The least safe towns are more distributed, with Gary, Indiana, atop the list.

25 Safest Small Cities and Towns in America

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  • City
    Crime Cost per Capita
  • 1. Franklin, MA
    $12
  • 2. Shrewsbury, MA
    $33
  • 3. Carmel Town, NY
    $40
  • 4. Northampton Township, PA
    $43
  • 5. Yorktown Town, NY
    $54

The Safest Town in Every State

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Are Small Cities and Towns Really 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 that there is a large degree of 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 comparable levels of crime as big-city counterparts. For example, the per capita cost of crime in the least safe small and large cities are comparable. In Gary, Indiana, the least safe small city, the per capita cost of crime is $8,786 compared to $9,334 in St. Louis, the most dangerous large city in America. Similarly, Westerville, Ohio (pop. 40,903), has a cost of crime per capita of $1,123, comparable to New York, New York (pop. 8.4 million), with a cost of crime per capita of $1,120.

While the safest places to live tend to be smaller, there is not a perfect correlation between population size and crime levels.

Expert Insights

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.

  1. Why are small cities and towns perceived to be safer than large cities? Are those perceptions accurate?

    Using 2019 FBI statistics, the violent crime rate in the U.S. varied significantly from small towns to large cities. In metropolitan statistical areas (cities), the rate was 395 per 100,000 residents versus 208 in nonmetropolitan counties. For those communities outside of metropolitan areas (suburbs), the rate was 391 per 100,000 residents.

    The question of the perception of safety is an interesting one as there are many factors that influence beliefs and attitudes, which vary greatly depending on the audience. For example, in affluent areas, law enforcement presence may connote a feeling of security, where, in more disenfranchised communities, a large police presence can be linked to high crime rates. For this reason and many more, the concept and the perceptions around safety are complex and deserve careful consideration.

    If there is a persistent notion that small towns are safer than larger cities, it may be attributed to the idea that in less-populated areas, people are more likely to know each other and to have a long-standing history with the area. The ties that bind a community are personal, whereas, in big cities, people are less likely to know their neighbors due to the large number of residents, more frenzied activity and higher frequency of migration.

  2. What programs or strategies do smaller cities and towns use to maintain safety and reduce the cost of crime in their communities?

    Many cities around the world, including the U.S., are implementing programs to collect data through connected technology to better understand their citizens’ and residents’ behavior. This is referred to as the “smart cities” movement and is based on the belief that better information can lead to better problem-solving.

    Many smaller communities are making great strides related to smart cities due to their ability to move more quickly from idea to implementation. In larger cities, there can be more bureaucratic hurdles, making projects larger and more complex. Smaller cities can simply move faster.

    Examples of data collection related to safety can go far beyond the expected use case of cameras tracking activity. For example, data can be collected on the number of street lights in a neighborhood related to the area’s crime rate. Adding lighting and other safety features, such as 911 call boxes, have been proven to reduce crime frequency. In addition, ensuring that there are ample and reliable transportation options can also contribute to creating safer cities. Technology can be a great aid in understanding how people need to move about their city. Finally, data can be collected to identify visual cues associated with lack of safety, such as abandoned buildings, vacant lots or vandalized areas. Applying data insights to improve the physical environment can often trigger a feeling of security and reduce instances of crime.

    Regardless of the size of the city, when it comes to data collection, there are many ethical issues that must be carefully considered, such as how data is collected, who collects and owns that data and how permission is granted to share data. Best practices for responsible data collection are rooted in transparency and mutual benefit. The Center for Data Innovation is an excellent guide on ethical data collection and management.

    Ethical data collection is one of the most critical issues of our modern era. It could be suggested that a community-wide conversation between government, industry and the social sector could be easier in smaller communities based on the interconnectedness of the residents. On the other hand, it could be argued that larger municipalities that are able to staff chief data officers and have greater access to private sector data professionals have more resources and higher levels of expertise to effectively manage data collection. So as with all things smart cities, there are no easy answers.

  3. Why are some smaller cities and towns less safe? Beyond the size of a community, what factors influence safety?

    The Economist Safe Cities Index ranks 60 cities across 57 indicators that cover several layers of safety, including digital security, health security, infrastructure security and personal security. Only large municipalities were included, so there cannot be a comparison of large versus small cities, but the indicators of what factors influence safety can be applied across both.

    The report found that communities with higher incomes performed better related to safety than others. This result was also tied to the investment of high-quality infrastructure and advanced health care systems. The report also found that transparency and accountability were important factors. “From building safer bridges to developing the trust needed for relevant stakeholders to share information on cyber-attacks, well-governed, accountable cities are safer cities.”

    This is strong advice for all city leaders. Creating transparency in governing and welcoming engagement from citizens and residents is good practice. The global pandemic has created new opportunities to increase involvement, such as hosting city council meetings online and increasing the amount of information online. Those who were traditionally unable to attend government meetings due to scheduling or transportation issues can now tune in online as long as there is adequate broadband access.

    In short, the more reliable information we have and can share with one another about our local communities, the more we can influence our reality. The key to creating safer cities is to engage, pay attention and get involved in a constructive way. Technology can play a key role in facilitating that engagement.


Chelsea Collier
Chelsea CollierFounder of Digi.City

Methodology

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

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About the Author


expert-profile

Deb Gordon is author of The Health Care Consumer’s Manifesto (Praeger 2020), a book about shopping for health care, based on consumer research she conducted as a senior fellow in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government between 2017 and 2019. Her research and writing have been published in JAMA Network Open, the Harvard Business Review blog, USA Today, RealClear Politics, TheHill, and Managed Care Magazine. Deb previously held health care executive roles in health insurance and health care technology services. Deb is an Aspen Institute Health Innovators Fellow, and an Eisenhower Fellow, for which she traveled to Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore to explore the role of consumers in high-performing health systems. She was a 2011 Boston Business Journal 40-under-40 honoree, and a volunteer in MIT’s Delta V start-up accelerator, the Fierce Healthcare Innovation Awards, and in various mentorship programs. She earned a BA in bioethics from Brown University, and an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School.


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