Violent crime is defined as a crime in which the offender or perpetrator uses or threatens to use force upon a victim. Examples of violent crimes are murder, rape, assaults, robbery, kidnapping, manslaughter, and sexual assault, among others.
From 1960 to 1991, the United States saw an increasing trend in violent crime, but in the period of 1992 to 2017, there has been a downward trend in violent crime in the United States (Figure 1). This is obviously great news, but the trends in the individual states do vary.
What states are the most dangerous?
While there are different ways to define violent crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) defines it as murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. With this oft used definition, we can rank each state based on the data compiled by the FBI. While it should be noted that ranking the most dangerous states on this raw data can be more complicated and often allows for other variables, it is still interesting to look at the actual number of recorded crimes.
The FBI data reports the number of violent crimes per one hundred thousand people in each state and territory by year, so it is a way to assess the odds of experiencing violent crime in different states. In simple terms, a higher number of violent crimes reported per one hundred thousand residents means you are more likely to experience a murder, rape, robbery, or assault.
Below are the ten most dangerous states in the U.S. based on 2018 data.
Alaska is the most dangerous state in the United States. Alaska’s violent crime rate is 885 incidents per 100,000 people as of 2018 – the highest its been in five years. Alaska is considered the deadliest state for women, where 59% of women have experienced violence, whether it is sexual violence and/or intimate partner violence. Additionally, there are some villages in Alaska where law enforcement is unavailable to prevent violent crime or protect or help the victims of crimes. The danger in Alaska is especially imminent for Native Alaskans. Violent crime makes up about 21% of total reported crimes in Alaska, while property crime makes up 79% (a rate of 3,300 per 100,000).
2. New Mexico
New Mexico is the United States’ second-most dangerous state. The violent crime rate in New Mexico is 857 incidents per 100,000 people, about 11,829 violent crimes in the whole state in 2018. Albuquerque is New Mexico’s most dangerous city, where the violent crime rate is 1,365 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. The property crime rate in New Mexico is also 3,420 per 100,000, the highest in the country. New Mexico has one of the highest poverty rates in the country at 19.5%, which is often correlated with high crime rates.
Tennessee is the third-most dangerous state in the U.S. with a violent crime rate of 623.7 incidents per 100,000 people. There were a total of 42,226 violent crimes reported in Tennessee in 2018, 30% of those crimes were in Memphis. Out of the violent crimes, 498 were murders, the 13th-highest number in the country. Tennessee’s poverty rate is the ninth-highest in the U.S. of 15.3%.
Arkansas’s violent crime rate of 543.6 per 100,000 people makes it the fourth-most dangerous state in the U.S. Despite its high rate, from 2017 to 2018, Arkansas saw a 3.6% reduction in violent crime. Arkansas’s most dangerous cities are West Memphis, where the violent crime rate is 1970.2 per 100,000, and Pine Bluff, where the violent crime rate is 1,609.2 per 100,000. Arkansas has the country’s fourth-highest imprisonment rate of 781 adults per 100,000 and the fifth-highest poverty rate of 17.2%.
Nevada is the fifth-most dangerous state in the U.S. with a violent crime rate of 541.1 per 100,000. Nevada reported an overall violent crime rate reduction of 1.5% from 2017 to 2018, and more dramatic declines for murder and robbery by 24.1% and 20.2%, respectively. Unfortunately, Nevada saw a 22.8% increase in rape from 2017 to 2018. The most dangerous city in Nevada is North Las Vegas, which has a violent crime rate of 966.1 per 100,000.
Louisiana’s violent crime rate is 537.5 per 100,000 people, making it the sixth-most dangerous state in the United States. That is 25,049 violent crimes committed in 2018. Louisiana also has the highest imprisonment rate in the country of 942 adults per 100,000. Louisiana also has the third-highest property crime rate of 3,276 incidents per 100,000. Louisiana’s high crime rate can be explained by its poverty rate of 18.6% and its unemployment rate of 4.9% since crime rates tends to be higher in lower-income areas with fewer economic opportunities.
Alabama is the seventh-most dangerous state in the United States. Alabama’s violent crime rate is 519.6 per 100,000. Alabama has the fifth-highest rates for both aggravated assault and murder of 387.6 per 100,000 and 7.8 per 100,000, respectively. Alabama’s poverty rate is 16.8%, the seventh-highest in the country.
Missouri’s violent crime rate of 502.1 per 100,000 makes it the eight-most dangerous state in the country. Missouri had a total of 607 murders in 2018, the eighth-highest number in the country, which is equivalent to 9.9 murders per 100,000 people, the second-highest rate in the country. St. Louis is one of the most violent cities in Missouri, with a rate of 1,800.4 violent crimes per 100,000 people.
9. South Carolina
South Carolina is the ninth-most dangerous state in the United States. South Carolina’s violent crime rate is the first in this list to drop below 500 at 488.3 per 100,000. This translates to 24,825 violent crimes in 2018. South Carolina has the sixth-highest rate for murders of 7.7 per 100,000 and the seventh-highest rate for aggravated assault of 362.8 per 100,000. South Carolina also has a property crime rate of 3,196 incidents per 100,000 people, the fourth-highest in the country.
Finishing the ten most dangerous states in the United States is Arizona, which has a violent crime rate of 474.9 per 100,000. Despite a high rate, Arizona saw a 4.5% drop in violent crimes between 2017 and 2018, from 505.7 per 100,000. Arizona has the sixth-highest imprisonment rate in the United States of 740 adults per 100,000. Arizona’s most dangerous cities are Tucson, Globe, Tolleson, Page, and Winslow.
The FBI also noted that the reported violent crime in general in the United States breaks down as follows: aggravated assaults accounted for 65.0% of violent crimes reported to law enforcement in 2017. Robbery offenses accounted for 25.6% of violent crime offenses, rape (legacy definition) accounted for 8.0%, and murder accounted for 1.4%.
The FBI data shows there are variances and trends based on locales. For example, you are twice as likely to experience violent crime in a large city, or metropolitan area (412.3), then in a rural area (201.6).
Using the geographic division data provided by the FBI, a bar chart shows:
The Pacific, Mountain, West South Central, and East South Central divisions had the highest rates and they all increased in 2017. The South Atlantic region was close to this “top” group of regions, but a drop in 2017 put this region back into the middle of the regional ranks along with the West North Central and East North central regions.
The Middle Atlantic and New England regions were the lowest and it decreased in 2017.
Grouping these divisions into regions as defined by the FBI as Northeast (New England and Mid Atlantic), South (South Atlantic, East South Central, West South Central), Midwest (East North Central and West North Central), and West (Pacific and Mountain), the data shows:
- The Northeast and South saw a drop in 2017, but the South had the highest number of violent crimes reported per one hundred thousand people.
- The Midwest changed very little 2016/2017 and ranked third overall.
- The highest increase 2016/2017 was in the West, which is now a close second to the South.