Choosing where to live is an important decision that involves weighing many factors, including affordability, job opportunities, climate, amenities, and safety. For many people, living in an area with low crime rates is a top priority. According to the FBI’s 2020 Uniform Crime Report, the violent crime rate in the United States was 398.5 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, while the property crime rate was 1,958.2 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. But crime rates can vary greatly between cities and metro areas. This article will examine cities with the lowest crime rates to determine which is the most crime-free in the U.S.
What factors contribute to low crime rates?
There are several key factors that tend to correlate with lower crime rates:
- Higher income levels
- Lower unemployment
- Higher educational attainment
- Stronger community ties and social capital
- Proactive policing strategies
- Fewer foreclosures and vacant properties
Affluent cities with thriving economies, good schools, high civic engagement, and well-funded police departments tend to have less violent and property crime. Concentrated disadvantage and lack of economic opportunity are linked to higher crime rates.
How is crime defined and measured?
Law enforcement agencies report crime data to the FBI each year for eight major offense types known as Part I crimes. Four are considered violent crimes: murder/nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The other four are property crimes: burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. The FBI compiles this data in its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.
A city’s crime rate refers to the number of reported crimes per 100,000 residents. A crime index combines the eight Part I offenses into a single value weighted by severity. Comparing cities’ crime rates and indexes enables assessing which places have the least crime relative to their populations.
What are the most crime-free large cities in America?
The cities below are the 10 largest U.S. cities with the lowest 2020 violent crime rates, based on the FBI data:
|City||2020 Population||Violent crime rate|
|San Jose, CA||1,018,147||450.7|
|San Diego, CA||1,425,976||466.2|
|El Paso, TX||682,669||352.8|
|Fort Worth, TX||926,906||549.6|
|San Francisco, CA||881,549||519.6|
These cities have significantly lower violent crime rates than the largest U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. However, among cities with populations over 250,000, San Jose has the lowest violent crime rate at 450.7 per 100,000 residents.
Lowest crime indexes
Examining the overall crime index adds property crimes into the mix. According to 2020 FBI data, the metro areas with the lowest crime indexes were:
- Amherst-Buffalo, NY
- Brattleboro, VT
- Burlington-South Burlington, VT
- Florence, SC
- Fredericksburg, VA
These areas all had property crime indexes of less than 2,500 per 100,000 residents and violent crime indexes under 200. This indicates they have both significantly lower violent and property crime rates compared to other metro areas.
What is the most crime-free large city in the U.S.?
Based on the violent crime rates and overall crime indexes, the most crime-free major city in the United States is:
San Jose, California
With a population over 1 million, San Jose has the lowest violent crime rate and a very low property crime rate. The city’s 2020 crime data includes:
- Violent crime rate: 450.7 per 100,000
- Murders: 20
- Rapes: 124
- Robberies: 638
- Aggravated assaults: 1,083
- Property crime rate: 3,072.2 per 100,000
- Burglaries: 3,095
- Larceny-thefts: 19,140
- Vehicle thefts: 4,418
- Arsons: 54
With high median incomes, a strong economy, and growing population, San Jose has solid socioeconomic foundations supporting community safety. The San Jose Police Department employs over 1,000 sworn officers and has implemented data-driven strategies targeting prolific offenders to drive down crime.
San Jose does still have some challenges with vehicle thefts and aggravated assaults, but overall its crime rate is remarkably low for such a large city. It demonstrates that major urban areas can achieve high livability and safety with the right policies and public investments.
Lowest crime rates by U.S. state
Safety can also vary greatly between states. The states with the lowest violent crime rates in 2020 were:
- New Hampshire
Each of these states had a violent crime rate under 200 per 100,000 inhabitants. Maine had the lowest rate at 112.1 per 100,000.
For overall crime including property offenses, the lowest crime rate by state was in:
Vermont had 1,700 property crimes and 109 violent crimes per 100,000 people, giving it the lowest crime index among all states.
Vermont’s crime profile includes:
- Violent crime rate: 109.2 per 100,000
- Murders: 10
- Rapes: 102
- Robberies: 21
- Aggravated assaults: 251
- Property crime rate: 1,700.3 per 100,000
- Burglaries: 429
- Larceny-thefts: 7,763
- Vehicle thefts: 334
- Arsons: 27
Vermont has among the lowest poverty and unemployment rates of any state. Over 42% of residents age 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, contributing to economic opportunity. While it has a predominantly rural character, low crime spans Vermont’s urban and rural communities.
Most crime-free small cities
Smaller cities often have inherent advantages when it comes to public safety, with closer community ties and fewer of the challenges facing large urban areas. The small U.S. cities with the lowest 2020 violent crime rates were:
|City||State||2020 Population||Violent crime rate|
Among small cities, Colonial Heights, Virginia stands out with the lowest violent crime rate at just 46.9 per 100,000 people. It recorded only 8 violent crimes in total during 2020. Colonial Heights has a relatively older population and benefits from close proximity to larger cities with more job opportunities.
Most crime-free small towns
Expanding to include towns with populations under 20,000, some patterns emerge in which small towns have the most safety and security:
- Towns in New England – Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine
- Towns in the rural west – Utah, Idaho, eastern Oregon
- College towns in the Midwest – Iowa, Wisconsin
- Suburbs of larger metro areas, especially in the Sunbelt – Georgia, Texas, Arizona
The very lowest violent crime rates are found in:
Hancock, New Hampshire
With a population of just over 2,000, Hancock recorded no violent crimes in 2020. Property crimes were also minimal, with 8 larceny-thefts and 2 burglaries, likely reflecting few opportunities for crime in the rural community.
Hancock exemplifies the link between small size, economic advantage, and extremely low crime levels. Over 52% of adults hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, median income is high at $83,750, and unemployment is less than 2%. Idyllic New England towns like Hancock attract well-educated professionals and families seeking security.
Key factors driving America’s lowest crime rates
This analysis of cities and states with the least crime reveals some shared characteristics and potential lessons for improving public safety elsewhere:
Affluence and economic opportunity
Cities and towns with low violent and property crime rates tend to have higher incomes and educational attainment along with low rates of unemployment and poverty. Lack of economic opportunity contributes to higher crime.
Small towns inherently have very low crime rates, while smaller cities outperform large metropolises for safety. Bigger cities face more challenges such as gangs and organized crime.
Close-knit communities where residents know each other and participate in community institutions like churches reduce the social isolation linked to crime.
Well-funded police departments employing community policing and focusing on preventing crime before it occurs can help lower crime rates.
There are some caveats to keep in mind when interpreting crime statistics:
- Not all crimes are reported, especially sexual assault and domestic violence.
- Definitions and reporting practices for crime vary between jurisdictions.
- “Safety” involves more factors beyond just crime rates.
- Perception of crime does not always align with statistics.
Nonetheless, the cities and towns with the absolute lowest crime rates do point to models for creating both real and perceived security at the community level.
While no place is completely crime-free, some cities and towns across the U.S. come remarkably close based on official crime data. Smaller communities in New England and the rural West tend to have the lowest crime rates. Among larger cities, affluent western hubs like San Jose and San Diego stand out for safety. There are also lessons to learn from these low-crime areas, like the link between economic advantage, social cohesion, and strong policing strategies in preventing crimes. Understanding different places’ success at minimizing crime can hopefully point to policies and programs for improving safety elsewhere.