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Hometown Safety: Calculating the Cost of Crime in America’s Small Cities and Towns

Last Updated: 1/31/2022
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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.

Key Findings:
  • 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

Safest Small Cities and Towns in America 2021 Badge

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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  • City
    Crime 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

City
Crime Cost per Capita

Juneau, AK

$1,931

Bentonville, AR

$532

Oro Valley, AZ

$126

Rancho Santa Margarita, CA

$78

Castle Rock, CO

$193

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.

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?
  2. What programs or strategies do smaller cities and towns use to maintain safety and reduce the cost of crime in their communities?
  3. Why are some smaller cities and towns less safe? Beyond the size of a community, what factors influence safety?
  4. How are changing demographics and trends such as urban flight likely to impact life in smaller cities and towns in the future?
Chelsea Collier
Chelsea Collier

Founder of Digi.City

Timothy Scanlan
Timothy Scanlan

Deputy Chief of Police in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana

David Dixon
David Dixon

Vice President Stantec Urban Places Fellow, FAIA

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

City
Safest Cities Rank
Crime Cost per Capita
Violent Crime Rate
Property Crime Rate
Cost of Crime ($000s)
Population

Buffalo Grove, IL

1

$22

12.4

49.5

$906

40,380

Franklin, MA

2

$32

17.5

93.3

$1,081

34,281

Carmel Town, NY

3

$35

14.7

331.4

$1,186

34,093

Shrewsbury, MA

4

$38

10.3

359.6

$1,464

38,656

Bartlett, IL

5

$39

22.2

61.6

$1,571

40,577

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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