What are the deadliest cities in the United States?

The United States is home to some of the world’s most iconic and renowned cities, from New York to Los Angeles to Chicago. However, amidst the glitz and glamor of America’s major metropolises lies a dark underbelly of violence and danger in certain urban areas. Some cities in the US have acquired reputations for being exceptionally deadly due to high rates of violent crime, gang activity, and homicide.

What factors make a city dangerous?

There are several factors that contribute to making a city dangerous and deadly:

  • High rates of violent crime such as murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault
  • Presence of organized gangs and drug trafficking activity
  • Economic inequality and poverty
  • Underfunded and understaffed police force
  • Proximity to trafficking corridors like interstate highways and border crossings
  • High gun ownership rates
  • Lack of educational and economic opportunities
  • Decaying infrastructure and blight

Cities where these conditions are widespread tend to have higher crime and homicide rates. However, it is important to note that many major US cities have very safe areas and dangerous areas side by side.

What cities are the most dangerous in the US?

Here is a look at some of the most dangerous and deadly cities in the United States based on recent crime statistics:

St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis has had the highest murder rate of any major American city for many years. In 2020, it reported 87 murders per 100,000 residents – nearly twice the US average. Poverty, gang violence, and illegal guns contribute to the bloodshed.

Detroit, Michigan

Though no longer the ‘Murder Capital’ it once was, Detroit still sees high levels of violence with 39 murders per 100,000 people in 2020. Organized crime and the drug trade fuel much of Detroit’s bloodshed.

Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore has struggled with drugs, inequality, and police corruption. The city saw 58 murders per 100,000 residents in 2020. The violence is concentrated in Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods.

Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis, with over 300 murders in 2020, has one of the highest homicide rates nationwide – 30 people per 100,000 residents. Gang activity, poverty, and easy access to guns all play a role.

Little Rock, Arkansas

Despite its small size, Arkansas’ capital sees violence levels on par with larger cities. In 2020 there were 25 murders per 100,000 people in Little Rock, many related to gangs.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee reported 32 murders per 100,000 residents in 2020. Crime in the city is characterized by poverty, illegal guns, domestic violence, and competition between gangs over drug turf.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Rounding out the top cities is New Orleans which has long struggled with violent crime, corruption, and poverty. In 2020 its murder rate was 20 per 100,000 with gang violence primarily to blame.

Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham reported 25 murders per 100,000 residents in 2022, placing it among the most dangerous cities in the country. Persistent poverty and racial segregation contribute to the violence.

Are murder rates going up in the US?

Despite concerningly high murder rates in some urban areas, it should be noted that nationwide homicide numbers are significantly below the peak levels seen in the crack epidemic of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Preliminary data from the FBI shows murders increased about 30% in 2020 versus 2019, but the national rate remains low compared to historical averages.

It does appear murders are trending up in recent years nationwide after hitting near historic lows in 2014. Criminologists debate the causes, but illegal guns, gang violence, inequality, distrust of police, and the pandemic have all likely contributed to the recent spike.

US Murder and Nonnegligent Manslaughter Rates per 100,000 (1960-2020)

Year Rate
1960 5.1
1970 7.9
1980 10.2
1990 9.4
2000 5.5
2010 4.8
2019 5.0
2020 6.5

Source: FBI, Uniform Crime Reporting

Which cities have the most murders in total numbers?

Looking at sheer homicide totals, America’s largest cities unsurprisingly top the list despite not having the highest murder rates per capita. Here are the US cities with the most murders in 2020 based on FBI data:

  1. Chicago, IL – 769
  2. Philadelphia, PA – 499
  3. New York, NY – 462
  4. Los Angeles, CA – 352
  5. Baltimore, MD – 335
  6. Houston, TX – 400
  7. Dallas, TX – 250
  8. New Orleans, LA – 201
  9. Detroit, MI – 327
  10. Phoenix, AZ – 200

Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York account for over 25% of all murders in cities with populations over 250,000 despite having just 6% of the total U.S. population.

Which states have the highest murder rates?

Zooming out from cities to states, here are the 10 states that currently have the highest murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rates per 100,000 residents based on 2020 FBI data:

  1. Mississippi – 12.0
  2. Louisiana – 12.4
  3. Kentucky – 8.5
  4. Alabama – 8.3
  5. Missouri – 9.8
  6. South Carolina – 8.7
  7. Tennessee – 8.0
  8. Arkansas – 8.6
  9. Maryland – 9.0
  10. Illinois – 7.8

The South dominates the list, holding 7 out of 10 spots. Reasons include higher rates of poverty and citizens owning guns compared to other U.S. regions.

How does the US compare to other countries?

Despite having some very dangerous cities, the overall US murder rate is modest compared to many countries worldwide. El Salvador, Jamaica, Honduras, Venezuela, and South Africa currently have the highest homicide rates globally – each exceeding 30 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.

The US comes in at around 47th highest out of 230 countries and territories. However, compared to most other wealthy Western nations, the US still has an unusually high murder and violence rate.

Murder Rates of Select Countries (murders per 100k people):

Country Murder Rate
El Salvador 61
Jamaica 47
South Africa 36
Brazil 27
United States 6
Canada 2
United Kingdom 1
Japan 0.3

Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

Why are murder rates so high in the deadliest US cities?

Criminology experts have analyzed the situation in America’s most murderous urban areas. Here are some of the key factors driving high homicide rates:

Poverty and Economic Inequality

Homicide is highly correlated with poverty, unemployment, and low incomes. As economic opportunities dry up in cities, crime and violence increases. Competition for scarce jobs, housing, and resources breeds crime.

Gang Violence

A significant portion of murders in many dangerous US cities are driven by disputes between gangs over territory, drugs, and personal beefs. Intense competition in the underground drug trade fuels much of this violence.

Illegal Gun Ownership

Many homicide victims and perpetrators in deadly cities possess guns illegally. Lax gun laws in surrounding states allow criminals to access firearms that flow into bordering cities.

Distrust of Police

Controversial police shootings and perceived bias have degraded police-community relations in some cities. This leads to more street justice and retaliatory violence.

Racial and Economic Segregation

Divided neighborhoods in segregated cities breed distrust and violence, especially when resources are not shared equally. Residential segregation concentrates crime in low-income minority areas.

What are solutions to make cities safer?

There are a range of measures cities can take to combat high murder rates and violent crime:

  • Invest in education and job opportunities in high-crime areas
  • Implement community policing models to build trust with residents
  • Crack down on illegal gun trafficking routes
  • Fund targeted gang violence prevention programs
  • Expand access to mental health and drug counseling services
  • Clean up vacant lots and restore decaying infrastructure
  • Increase funding and training for law enforcement
  • Create city task forces on crime reduction and prevention

Additionally, cities must address broader socioeconomic drivers like poverty, inequality, and segregation to create the conditions for long-term public safety improvements.


Cities like St. Louis, Detroit, and Baltimore top the list of America’s deadliest urban areas plagued by high rates of homicide and violent crime. Complex socioeconomic factors like poverty, gun violence, gangs, the drug trade, and distrust of police all collaborate to drive the bloodshed. Domestic murder rates remain far lower than the peak levels of the 90s, but concerning increases in recent years have politicians and law enforcement searching for solutions. With creative policies that address root causes and an emphasis on community relations and economic revitalization, US cities can work to shed their reputations as hubs of violence, danger, and murder.

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