Americans are fleeing big cities for the safety of small towns, but how much safer are they?
Hometown Safety: Calculating the Cost of Crime in America’s Small Cities and Towns
- Safest Small Cities and Towns
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
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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- CityCrime 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
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.
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?
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
About the Author
- Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Offenses Known to Law Enforcement - By State By City." Accessed November 19, 2020.
- 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 3, 2020.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. "The Cost of Crime to Society." Accessed December 3, 2020.