A recent study categorized towns and cities across the U.S. into safest and least safe, with one Arkansas town coming in last place.

The MoneyGeek study, which compared standardized crime statistics from the FBI from 2021—the most recent year with relevant data—with population statistics, concluded smaller urban centers are getting safer while violent crime in large cities is on the rise.

The safest urban areas were in the Northeast or Midwest, while the least safe were more widely distributed, according to the research by experts including Deb Gordon published on May 26.

Yorktown, New York, was named the safest town, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas, was named the least safe; however, some experts have questioned the validity of the analysis.

Urban New York City
Street signs at the corner of East 20th Street and Broadway in New York. A recent study has categorized towns and cities across the U.S. into safest and least safe.
iStock / Getty Images

Speaking to Newsweek, associate professor Justin Nix of the University of Nebraska raised his concerns about the study’s methodology.

“The first thing to note about this analysis is that it relies on 2021 FBI data,” he told Newsweek. “This was the first year that the FBI had fully transitioned to NIBRS (National Incident-Based Reporting System), and it resulted in lower quality national data due to a larger share of local agencies not participating.

“Some agencies submitted only partial data (i.e., less than the full 12 months), and it’s not clear how the analysis handled this issue.”

The study analyzed these crime statistics by quantifying the cost of crime and ranking the small cities and towns nationwide in every state. It stated that crimes such as murder, rape and aggravated assault are included within these statistics as well as property crimes such as burglaries and car theft. The study also went into greater detail regarding the geography of the safest areas.

“Most of the safest small cities and towns in America are in the Northeast or Midwest, with three of the top ten cities in New York or New Jersey, three in Massachusetts and one each in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas. The least safe towns are more distributed, with Pine Bluff, Arkansas, at the top of the list,” the study said.

The cities were organized considering the crime cost per capita, violent crime rate, property crime rate, cost of crime, and population.

“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 and included 660 cities in the ranking. Please note that 2021 data was not available for small cities in Alaska, Hawaii and Nevada,” the study said.

According to the study, the least safe towns and cities are as follows:

  1. Pine Bluff, Arkansas: With a population of 39,670, it had a crime cost per capita of $9,071, a violent crime rate of 2,067.1, a property crime rate of 5,863.4 and a cost of crime of $359,866, according to the study.
  2. Monroe, Louisiana: With a population of 46,808, it had a crime cost per capita of $7,764, a violent crime rate of 2,657.7, a property crime rate of 5,672.1 and a cost of crime of $363,433.
  3. Houma, Louisiana: With a population of 32,351, it had a crime cost per capita of $7,740, a violent crime rate of 871.7, a property crime rate of 3,901 and a cost of crime of $250,394.
  4. Alexandria, Louisiana
  5. Wilmington, Delaware
  6. Texarkana, Texas
  7. Petersburg, Virginia
  8. Saginaw, Michigan
  9. Youngstown, Ohio
  10. Flint, Michigan
  11. Salisbury, North Carolina
  12. Portsmouth, Virginia
  13. Aiken, South Carolina
  14. North Little Rock, Arkansas
  15. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Conversely, according to the study, the safest towns and cities are:

  1. Yorktown, New York: With a population of 35,970, it had a crime cost per capita of $43, a violent crime rate of 8.3, a property crime rate of 606.1, and a cost of crime of $1,553.
  2. Mason, Ohio: With a population of 34,660, it had a crime cost per capita of $47, a violent crime rate of 14.4, a property crime rate of 510.7 and a cost of crime of $1,619.
  3. Andover, Massachusetts: With a population of 37,216, it had a crime cost per capita of $51, a violent crime rate of 18.8, a property crime rate of 519.9 and a cost of crime of $1,888.
  4. Southlake, Texas
  5. Arlington, Maryland
  6. Princeton, New Jersey
  7. Hampden Township, Pennsylvania
  8. Carmel Hamlet, New York
  9. Needham, Massachusetts
  10. Greenwich, Connecticut
  11. Westfield, New Jersey
  12. Rexburg, Idaho
  13. Sammamish, Washington
  14. North Andover, Massachusetts
  15. White Lake Township, Michigan

“Small cities and towns have 42% lower crime costs than larger cities,” the study concluded as part of its key findings. However, the costs of crime did not follow a clear-cut trend and were not applicable across the board.

“A small city or town can bear the same costs of crime as a large city. Pine Bluff, Arkansas, has a higher crime cost per capita than St. Louis, the large city with the highest cost of crime. Similarly, New York City has a cost of crime comparable to Cedar City, Utah,” the study said.

David Dixon, the vice president of engineering services company Stantec, which helps design communities, weighed in on the data.

“The smaller cities I have worked in have lower crime rates, and frankly, I have always assumed that this relates to a stronger sense of community and the degree to which many more residents know or at least recognize each other,” he said under the Expert Insights section of the study.

“This said, crime rates have been dropping in larger cities for more than a decade. The fundamental challenges that small and large cities share is growing wealth and income inequalities.”

He added: “Small and large cities alike that do not attract talent and the jobs and investment that follow will face downward pressure on jobs and incomes, with potential negative outcomes in terms of crime and safety. The key to attracting talent is the ability to offer the lifestyle choices [people want].”

Nix took issue with the conclusions due to how the data was obtained and suggested it may not give the most accurate picture regarding crime in an area.

“It’s also a single year of data, and in some of these small cities where violent crime is rare (statistically speaking), that can skew the analysis,” he told Newsweek. “A better approach would be to use 3- or 5-year averages to smooth out some of the noise. As an example, consider a small town that experiences a murder once every 5 years.

“If your analysis picks the one year that town happens to have a murder (versus the other 4 years with zero murders), it’ll artificially inflate its murder rate. In fact, an article [from CBS News, published in 2010] suggests a 2010 murder in Yorktown was the first in over 15 years.

“Rape is notoriously underreported, so those data are significantly less reliable than the data on murder, aggravated assault, and robbery. Simple assaults can constitute a crime of violence, yet they are excluded from the analysis.”

The full study can be viewed here.

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