Crime in America: Top 10 Safest Cities Over 200,000

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Although most crime in the United States occurs in densely populated areas, there are several large cities that somehow manage to keep their crime levels low despite their sizes. These cities beg the question: what factors make one city safer than another?

To properly compare and analyze these cities, we group them into large and small categories.  A large city is considered to be one that has a population greater than 200,000 people.  We then further adjust for population by ranking each city by its violent crime rate, which is the measure of how many violent crimes occurred per 100,000 people in 2012.

Violent crime is defined by the total number of murders, aggravated assaults, robberies, and forcible rapes during the year.  Although murder is included in the aggregate violent crime rate, we also report the murder rate separately for each city.  For additional information on Law Street’s crime-ranking methodology, click here.

Here are the 10 safest cities over 200,000 in the United States based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report Statistics released September 16, 2013:

1. Irvine, Calif.

Irvine is rated number one on our top ten safest cities list because it has the lowest amount of violent crime by population.  What is the secret of its security and prosperity? Irvine is a planned city that was developed by the Irvine Company in the 1960s. The overall design incorporates ample common spaces, townships with commercial centers, schools and churches. Although Irvine has more than 200,000 residents, it had only 110 reported instances of violent crime in 2012.  Its police officer to population ratio and low murder rate further indicate how safe Irvine is. Demographic and economic factors provide a picture of a prosperous upper-middle class city. The population of the city is predominantly white (50.48 percent) and Asian (39.16 percent) with a small proportion of Hispanics and blacks. University of California Irvine is the top employer, providing more than 14,000 jobs for its residents. Two important factors influence Irvine’s low danger rating: the overall economic prosperity and relative homogeneity of its residents; and city’s unique design that further reinforces community development and integration.

Violent Crime Rate: 50.57 per 100,000 people

Population: 217, 528

Murder Rate: 0.92 per 100,000 people

Officer to Population Ratio: 1:1083

Median Household Income: $85,615

Unemployment Rate: 5.7 percent

Safest City Over 200,000 Rank in 2011: #1

2. Gilbert, Ariz.

The most notable aspect of Gilbert’s low level of crime is the number of police officers that the city employs.  Having only one officer for every 965 people, Gilbert has a very efficient policing system given that it had only 205 instances of violent crime and 5 murders in 2012.  Because Gilbert is such a safe city to live in it has recently experienced significant population growth.  As a result, its police force may need to dramatically expand as people continue to flock to the city. Gilbert has been able to successfully target its few police officers to increase police visibility and keep its crime rate low.

Violent Crime Rate: 95.68 per 100,000 people

Population: 214,264

Murder Rate: 2.33 per 100,000 people

Officer to Population Ratio: 1:965

Median Household Income: $80,090

Unemployment Rate: 5.3 percent

Safest City Over 200,000 Rank in 2011: #2

3. Plano, Texas

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Plano’s unemployment rate in 2012 was 9.45 percent, which shows a steady decline since 2010. One reason for Plano’s prosperity and security is a high concentration of companies such as Frito-Lay, JC Penney, EDS and Perot Systems, which provide steady career opportunities to its residents. The majority of its population work in trade, transportation, education, healthcare, and business services. In addition, Texas’ pro-business climate and lack of personal and corporate income taxes further stimulates economy and investments in the city. The murder rate in Plano is significantly lower than the national average, which reflects a moderate officer to individual ratio with only 339 total officers employed. Steady job growth and a favorable business climate in Plano direct its development toward economic expansion and crime reduction.

Violent Crime Rate: 130.74 per 100,000 people

Population: 214,264

Murder Rate: 2.33 per 100,000 people

Officer to Population Ratio: 1:807

Median Household Income: $83,239

Unemployment Rate: 9.45 percent

Safest City Over 200,000 Rank in 2011: #3

4. Fremont, Calif.

Due to its convenient location in the Bay area of San Francisco, Fremont is in the center of Silicon Valley, with more than 30 clean tech companies and advanced manufacturing enterprises. The city is also booming with green and high tech information technology jobs. It was ranked number one by in terms of start-up businesses per capita and voted the second most innovative city in America by The Daily Beast. The high median income of the residents attracts population growth, emergence of new businesses, and safety of the community. The unemployment rate has also steadily declined since 2010. Fremont has the lowest police officer to population ratio of all the cities on our list, and it is an affluent, progressive, and safe city.

Violent Crime Rate: 139.77 per 100,000 people

Population: 218,927

Murder Rate: 0.09 per 100,000 people

Officer to Population Ratio: 1: 1251

Median Household Income: $92,655

Unemployment Rate: 7.6 percent

Safest City Over 200,000 Rank in 2011: #5

5. Scottsdale, Ariz.

With only 147 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, Scottsdale takes the number five spot on our list of safest large cities in America. Scottsdale is a homogeneous city: 89.27 percent of its population is white and over the age of 45. Most of its residents work in healthcare, information technology, education, and city government. One of the biggest employers in Scottsdale is General Dynamics 4C Systems, which produces communication and information technologies for the U.S. Department of Defense, federal and intelligence agencies, and several international customers. The officer to population ratio is fairly high in Scottsdale which also contributes to its safety and low murder rate. Thus, the vibrant economy, high officer to population ratio and median age of Scottsdale’s residents contributes to the safety and advancement the city.

Violent Crime Rate: 147.25 per 100,000 people

Population: 223,432

Murder Rate: 0.13 per 100,000 people

Officer to Population Ratio: 1: 557

Median Household Income: $71,564

Unemployment Rate: 7.52 percent

Safest City Over 200,000 Rank in 2011: #6

6. Henderson, Nev.

The population of Henderson is predominantly white (76.89 percent) with equal proportions of African American and Asian residents. The murder rate per 100,000 people is 0.15 which is very low, and consistent with the low officer to population distribution. The unemployment rate in Henderson is the highest among all cities on our list, but it has been steadily declining since 2010. The city provides many educational, recreational, and business opportunities for its population. Its close proximity to the Las Vegas Strip, and carefully planned residential communities also increase economic opportunities and the quality of its residents’ lives. The second largest city in Nevada, Henderson incorporates an abundance of recreational and community facilities, including award-winning parks and recreation centers. The high standard of living, strong sense of community, and financial stability of Henderson’s residents all foster safety and security within the city.

Violent Crime Rate: 168.90 per 100,000 people

Population: 263,469

Murder Rate: 0.15 per 100,000 people

Officer to Population Ratio: 1: 803

Median Household Income: $66,606

Unemployment Rate: 17.06 percent

Safest City Over 200,000 Rank in 2011: #7

7. Virginia Beach, Va.

With close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and a diverse mix of industries, Virginia Beach has a strong economy and low level of crime. Major employers such as Naval Air Station Oceana, Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, and Sentara Healthcare provide jobs for more than 17,000 residents. The city has the largest concentration of military personnel outside the Pentagon, and it is also a popular tourist destination with 5 million visitors annually. Virginia Beach is a dynamic community with very low murder and violent crime rates as a result of the right mix of industrial complexes in the city, presence of military personnel, and tourism.

Violent Crime Rate: 169.35 per 100,000 people

Population: 447,588

Murder Rate: 0.47 per 100,000 people

Officer to Population Ratio: 1: 571

Median Household Income: $58,568

Unemployment Rate: 13.4 percent

Safest City Over 200,000 Rank in 2011: #4

8. Irving, Texas

Although the median income level in Irving is lower than the national poverty line, the unemployment rate is rather low, and has continued to decline since 2010. Irving is home to 50 Fortune 500 headquarters, which has spurred great economic development. The infrastructure and government of Irving also promote favorable conditions for the creation of small businesses, and further development of major industries. The murder rate is consistent with other cities on our top 10 list, while the officer to population ratio is rather high. One very notable aspect of Irving is its high levels of diversity, as the most diverse zip code in America is located within its city limits.  Economic opportunity in Irving has created a very community-friendly environment, which further contributes to its low level of violent crime.

Violent Crime Rate: 226.33 per 100,000 people

Population: 224,007

Murder Rate: 0.13 per 100,000 people

Officer to Population Ratio: 1: 680

Median Household Income: $47,248

Unemployment Rate: 8.38 percent

Safest City Over 200,000 Rank in 2011: #9

9. Garland, Texas

Garland is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, which gives the city many economic advantages. Garland is a middle class community with a relatively low rate of unemployment. The murder rate is also very low which explains the 1:758 police officer to population ratio. White residents constitute a large portion of the city’s population at 57.46 percent, with significantly lower percentages of Asian and black residents. However, there is a significant number of Hispanics in the city, as they account for 37.81 percent of its total population. Garland is focused on further development and revitalization of its diverse communities through an array of initiatives and programs that help to organize and advance different neighborhoods. Public safety is also improved by a variety of community programs, including Neighborhood Crime Watch and Crimestoppers. Garland’s stable economy helps keep crime levels low; however it is primarily the community-oriented population that helps keep the city safe for its residents.

Violent Crime Rate: 229.80 per 100,000 people

Population: 234,984

Murder Rate: 0.3 per 100,000 people

Officer to Population Ratio: 1:758

Median Household Income: $49,156

Unemployment Rate: 8.76 percent

Safest City Over 200,000 Rank in 2011: #8

10. Chula Vista, Calif.

Chula Vista has a rather low unemployment rate and fairly high median income level. The city is relatively diverse, with whites accounting for 53.70 percent, Hispanics 37.81 percent, Asians 14.37 percent, and blacks 4.6 percent. The city has a dynamic small business community, which serves as a stable base for economic growth and development. The tourism industry helps provide employment and an influx of spending into the economy. Chula Vista is on our safest cities list due to its advantageous coastline location, wide array of small businesses and tourist hot spots, and its safe environment.

Violent Crime Rate: 232.56 per 100,000 people

Population: 249,830

Murder Rate: 0.32 per 100,000 people

Officer to Population Ratio: 1:1189

Median Household Income: $67,265

Unemployment Rate: 10.34 percent

Safest City Over 200,000 Rank in 2011: #11

Research and analysis by Law Street’s Crime in America Team: Kasandra Cisneros, Valeriya Metla, Asim Mian, and Kevin Rizzo.


Violent crime, population, murder, and officer statistics are from the FBI 2012 Uniform Crime Report.

Median household income is measured from 2007-2011, and is from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Unemployment rate statistics come from 2012 data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Click here for FBI data on each of the cities ranked above. Click here for all Law Street crime data.

Click here for additional information on Law Street’s crime-ranking methodology.

Click here to read more Crime in America coverage.

Featured Irvine Image Courtesy of [Wikimedia]

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