Ah, America: The Land of the Free, home to the Statue of Liberty, the great pioneer trails over the Rocky Mountains, and the towering skyscrapers of New York, Chicago, and happening LA. Well…that’s the side they want you to see, anyway. This guide will get to the gritty underbelly of the stars and stripes, by focusing in on the most dangerous places in America…
There are 7 picks in all. Each is highlighted for its soaring crime rates, its striking levels of gun crime or homicide, or its vulnerability to natural disasters. We think you might just be surprised at the names that pop up. Some are firmly on the typical tourist trail, offering bucket-list sights and attractions that everyone hitting the home of cheesesteak and NFL wants to see.
The thing is, the most dangerous places in America are often only dangerous because of a few bad apples; certain neighborhoods or areas that suffer from high levels of deprivation and crime. No one says you have to visit those parts. In fact, it’s usually perfectly possible to hit the car museums of Detroit or the rock and roll bars of Memphis without getting caught up in all the bad stuff. Don’t worry about that!
Detroit really is a boom-and-bust sort of place. Back in the 50s and 60s, this Great Lakes metropolis was known as Motor City, and it blazed a trail in the car industry. Sadly, tough international competition led to a near-collapse in the sector. Throw in a few economic crashes and whatnot, and, by the 1990s, Detroit had serious issues with unemployment and – crucially – crime.
Things came to a head in 2013 when the city was forced to declare bankruptcy, defaulting on a whopping $20 billion of debt in the process. However, it looks as though that all might prove cathartic, because Forbes and other travel outlets are now touting Detroit as one of the US cities to watch, citing big developments in the entertainment areas of Midtown and the Riverfront.
Sadly, no one thought to let the crime stats know about Motown’s new image. The city is consistently among the top five most crime-ridden places in the country. Stats show that there’s something like a 1/29 chance that you’ll fall victim to something here, plus Detroit has the dubious boast of having the 4th-highest murder rate of any major city in the USA. Not good.
Mention Memphis and folks usually start bopping all over the place. Visions of the city’s greatest musical son, the king of rock and roll himself, Elvis Presley, still loom large in the rep of this southern city. Unfortunately, the feel-good vibes of the music made in these parts isn’t matched by the urban atmosphere…
Memphis tops the bill or comes close to it for a whole number of different crime counters. The town has a violent crime rate of 25/1,000 head of population, which is more than six times the national average and five times the Tennessee state average. It’s in the top five in the country for vehicle theft and property crime. And it sees a whopping 156 crimes per square meter of urban territory.
All that sits alongside one of the most rambunctious town centers going. Butting up to the bends of the Mississippi River, there are the vibrant walks of South Main Street, where gritty honky-tonk bars mingle with the tree-lined paths of the Mississippi Riverwalk. Yep, there are certainly fun-filled and peaceful pockets to discover if you know where to look.
St Louis, Missouri
The Gateway Arch of St Louis is supposed to mark the official starting point of the Wild West and the Western United States. More recently, it also heralds one of the most dangerous places in America. Mhmm…crime stats here are through the roof of any classic Southern shotgun house you can find.
The numbers show that for much of 2022, St Louis hit a formidable 10.82 violent crimes per 100k head of population. That translated into 3,202 separate incidents up until September of that year. Yikes! Thing is, that’s actually not all that bad when you consider that Missouri’s second-largest city once led the way with the highest murder rate in the USA as recently as 2017.
It’s a kinda’ sad thing to consider, because there are oodles to see here. Riverboat cruises on the Mississippi join with the incredible sights of the Gateway Arch National Park, which then gives way to a downtown core that’s packed with brisket-smoking BBQ joints and whisky bars.
The Windy City on the sides of Lake Michigan is a bucket-list-busting metropolis if there ever was one. Come to delve into the 300,000 priceless works at the Art Institute of Chicago, hit the LGBTQ bars of East Lakeview, gawp up at the Willis Tower, and wonder at the urban sculptures of Millennium Park.
Tempted? Yea, we would be too. Just be sure to keep your wits about you as you move around. Chicago once again topped the whole list of major US cities on the homicide front back in 2022. The town witnessed a ridiculous 697 murders overall! To put that into perspective, that number is just one more than what the whole of England and Wales combined saw in the same period!
The good news is that Chicago’s darker side is generally pretty isolated from the main tourist areas of the city. Yes, crimes do happen around The Loop – the area that sees most sightseers – but nowhere near as often as they do in the more crime-ridden neighborhoods of West Garfield Park, Washington Park, and Englewood to name just three.
It seems fitting that the city that made much of its global fame on account of the HBO hit drama The Wire is sitting pretty on our list of the most dangerous places in America. Cue Baltimore, a salt-washed town on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, where you run a 1/22 chance of falling victim to a crime.
That’s not good at all. Crime stats equal to 46 in every 1,000 head of population, fueled by some striking numbers of both violent crimes and property crimes – there were over 9,000 incidents of the former and over 17,000 incidents of the latter in 2022!
However, reports have shown that the vast majority of the total crime in Baltimore can be put down to a select few areas. Especially of note is the duo of Sandtown-Winchester and Berea, which have seen severe economic downturns in the last 50 years and even been the sight of urban riots in the last five years. Avoid them at all costs.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico, is another spot that cut its teeth with a global audience thanks to a gritty TV crime drama. Only this time it was AMC’s desert noir, Breaking Bad, a tale of narcotics production gone awry in the hands of everyone’s favorite makeshift villain, Heisenberg (AKA Walter White).
Well…the story on the ground here is probably a lot less glamorous than all the showdowns in the Sonoran and whatnot. In plain numbers, you’re looking at over 9,200 violent crimes each year, and a total of 87 homicides across the city. That tots up to a total chance of becoming wrapped up in a crime of 1/72.
If you can look past the bad stuff, then there’s quite a bit to keep you interested, especially if you’re of the adventurous type. Albuquerque sits on the cusp of some seriously striking desert landscapes. Head east and you can hike the bluffs of Bosque Peak. Go north and you can explore the pine-studded alpine meadows of the Valles Caldera, which bloom with wildflowers in spring and get dusted in snow come the winter months.
Mobile had the (dis)honor of coming second on MoneyGeek’s list of the most dangerous places in America for 2022. And before you say no one cares about second place, we’d gently remind readers that it came second only to aforementioned St Louis, a city that has such startling violent crime stats that it’s never a good look to be mentioned in the same sentence!
Anyway, back to Mobile. The worries here are down to the exceptionally high instances of violent crime and property crime. You have a 1/36 chance of becoming a victim of the former here, while homeowners probably never stop worrying – there’s a 1/9 chance that property will be targeted. It’s all pretty darn sad, because it looked as though crime stats were dropping significantly here as recently as 2018.
If you do happen to drop by Mobile, Alabama, be sure to check out the sparkling beaches of the Alabama Panhandle, hit the striking exhibits of the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, and check out the lovely Antebellum homes of the various historic districts.
The most dangerous places in America – our conclusion
Truth is, the ranking of the most dangerous places in America changes every year as the crime stats flit this way and that. In this guide, we’ve tried to focus in on seven spots that have been consistently ranked among the top 10 worst-off US towns. It’s got some surprising additions, like the rocking music city of Memphis and the desert metropolis of Albuquerque. But there are also some places you probably expected to see name dropped: Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore.