November 22nd, 2010
01:26 PM ET

St. Louis most violent? It's not so simple, expert says

St. Louis, Missouri, was ranked as the most crime-ridden city in the U.S.

Camden, New Jersey, has reason to celebrate today. It is no longer ranked as the most dangerous city in America.

Camden is now the second most crime-ridden city, second to St. Louis, Missouri, according to CQ Press, which annually publishes reference books based on academic and government data. The most violent city list is based on the FBI's 2009 uniform crime statistics covering murder, rape, burglary, robbery, aggravated assault and vehicle theft.

According to CQ, St. Louis had over 2,000 crimes per 100,000 residents, compared to the national average of about 430 crimes per the same number of residents. For the second straight year, Colonie, a suburb of Albany, New York, had the least crime.

But such rankings tend to be oversimplifications, experts say. What's more, the FBI discourages using its stats to make sweeping generalizations about crime and whole cities, said John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Andrew Karmen. He specializes in crime statistics and has written extensively about how they can be manipulated or presented in a biased way.

"When you look at these rankings and lists, the findings fall apart," he said. Crime reporting is nuanced and is affected by factors that can differ from one zip code to another, much less one city to another.

CQ, which sells its book on the findings for $70, acknowledges that, said spokesman Ben Krasney.

"The data is not flawless," he said. "We're a reference publisher, a starting point for other research. Crime rates within boundaries of a city - whether one neighborhood has more crime than another - we don't get into that."

Karmen said it's important to consider how, why and when crime is reported in different cities. If a police department is perceived as friendly, a welcoming place to file a report or come forward as a victim, crime stats are going to appear higher, for example.

Although "uniform" crime statistics are supposed to be just that, crime classification can vary. Vehicular manslaughter might not always be classified as murder, but rather a crime involving a vehicle, he said.

The faltering economy is also a huge factor in crime data.

CQ reports that the top five most violent cities in America, from first to fifth, are St. Louis; Camden; Detroit, Michigan; Flint, Michigan; and Oakland, California.

"Consider the industrial aspects of some of those cities and what has happened with jobs and those markets in the past few years," said Karmen. "The whole picture cannot be fairly reduced to a list."

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Filed under: Justice
soundoff (72 Responses)
  1. Memphrica Resident

    Come to Memphis, shaved apes rule the streets here.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robq

      Funny that colonie, ny is the safest place in America with the least amount of crime. when I was like 16 i bought a 1/2 pound of horrible marijuana in colonie from a friend of a friend.

      August 2, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ABB123

    I am from NJ- FAR from Camden though- and I have to tell you, it is such a disgusting crime-ridden place that it looks like a bomb went off there. Just pure disgusting. I avoid the area like the plague.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Andy

    Number of crimes vs number of reported crimes can vary a lot.

    – A

    November 23, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. RealSportsTown

    "Lies, damn lies, and statistics!" Need I say more? You can slant statistics to make any point you want, just fiddle with what you include or exclude!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    I find it har to believe that St. Louis was marked and the most dangerous city in the country. Thirty miles down the road in O'fallon Mo. it was recently named the second safest city in the country.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Former O'Fallon Resident

      Man, I'd rather live in St Louis than O'Fallon again. Nothing to do after 10 pm except drink. So whitebread and culturally desolate (unless you like AMC or Barnes & Noble) that it's painful.

      November 24, 2010 at 4:21 am | Report abuse |
  6. fjehan

    I've been to St. Louis and much of it is quite nice. However I did see some downright dangerous ghettoes (East St. Louis) that rival south Chicago and south-central and east Los Angeles. I'm sure those nasty sections of St. Louis are primarily responsible for the high crime rates.

    Unfortunately we live in a first world and third world country combined. Many times I think I'd be better off living somewhere in Europe. I live in Los Angeles, but in a safe suburb away from dangerous ghettoes. But we always have to be careful.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. sleezy

    I've lived in "the Lou" all my life and i love it here...with so much cultural diversity everyday can be a trip around the world. And omg the sports.....we also have a rich history of music food family fun and more......try art hill in the winter time and ted drews in the summer..nothing better..im proud of and love my city!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  8. David B.

    CQ Press is a complete mess and their methodology is flawed. Even worse is CNN reporting their incorrect information.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. RealSportsTown

    If you're looking for trouble you can find it in any large city in the U.S. or for that matter almost anywhere in the world. I witnessed crime (assault) first hand in the city of lights (Paris for those uninitiated) while just visiting and never in St. Louis (in my 41 years of residence here).

    November 23, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jpsmith

    memphis, st louis violent cities dont wanna live there

    November 23, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. BB

    I have lived in St. Louis for 12 years and their are potential threats everywhere, what town doesn't offer that..... I have traveled internationally and to say this place is one of the most dangerous cities is BS. Stay off the north side of St. Louis and you will be fine. In general be aware of your surroundings, Missouri has lax gun laws and the Castle law for law obiding citizens...Enough said.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. RobbyD

    Whats more idiotic than someone making this list the way they did are the news organizations who give the list credibility by publishing it...

    If the goal is to highlight the top crime-ridden, violently dangerous areas to help fight crime, you have to compare apples to apples, which this list does not do.

    If the goal is to highlight minority dominated central cities and perpetuate myths of the extreme danger in urban America so suburbanites can feel justified in their pampered existence, the list works.

    I live in the Lou and have been around the block many places. There is absolutely no way St. Louis is the most dangerous city in America. No way. It's actually a pretty nice (and affordable) place to live. Go Blues.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. IT Guy

    Madison, Wisconsin Named Most Safe And Secure US City

    16 Dec 12:04

    (Newsroom America) - According to the seventh annual Most Secure U.S. Places to Live rankings from Farmers Insurance Group of Companies, Madison, Wis., is the most secure U.S. community among large metropolitan areas (population of 500,000 or greater).

    December 21, 2010 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ajndrews

    Honestly St.Louis is that bad. However everywhere you go in this world there are good people and bad people. I have lived in the Metro East my whole life. Everything you hear about St. Louis is true. Want to see what happens when people give up on building a community just visit East St. Louis. Thing about East St.Louis is .. the white community vanished out of that place and for damn good reason. Most whites grew up there only a generation or so ago. Now its trashed and the struggling minority black community can barely pay for infrastructure there much less keep an effective policing force. Want Drug addicted m-e-t-h heads visit any white country town on either side of the river 20mi – 50mi around the STL. Drug culture is so thick here you would have to be blissfully ignorant not to realize it. The stranglehold poverty has here is only because there are so many people that really don't give a damn about fixing anything in their lives for their children's sake. St Louis as a whole is a breeding ground of misery and failure.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
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