Here are the cold, hard facts: According to FBI statistics, the following cities had the highest rates of murder per capita in the U.S. in 2014. Now, one can qualify these stats in many different ways. Civic leaders in these cities will quickly point out that the majority of murders happen far from tourist and business areas, and involve people engaged in drugs and other high-risk activities. As a disclaimer, the FBI itself warns against drawing any conclusions based on this data, saying the numbers “provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city … or other jurisdiction. Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities …” That said, we will just let the numbers speak for themselves, without rehashing all the clichéd titles (”Murder Capital of the U.S.,” “America’s Most Dangerous City”) that have plagued some of these cities for years.
(20.2 murders per 100,000 population)
This Ohio city registered 60 homicides in 2014. Local police reported that number climbed to 71 in 2015, and that the number of people shot in Cincinnati rose 28 percent. City leaders cited those violent crime figures as one of the reasons they fired the police chief in September 2015.
(20.5 murders per 100,000 population)
Like the other cities here, Atlanta has certain neighborhoods that see a disproportionate share of murders and other violent crimes. That’s particularly true in Atlanta: A study published by Atlanta Magazine found only 10 of the city’s 84 homicides in 2012 were committed in the area that includes downtown Atlanta and the city’s more affluent areas north and northeast of downtown.
(21.4 murders per 100,000 population)
Memphis has ranked among the most dangerous cities in the United States for many years, and the trend seems to be headed in the wrong direction. The city had 140 homicides for all of 2014; after a slight decline in 2015, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports 114 homicides had been committed in the city through the end of June 2016.
(22.4 murders per 100,000 population)
The FBI’s 2014 report cited 69 murders in the Steel City in 2014, a five-year high (local police figures cited 71 murders). Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that up to 80 percent of that figure can be attributed to illegal drug trafficking.
(23.2 murders per 100,000 population)
Buffalo reported 60 homicides for 2014, but the Buffalo Police Department reported 42 homicides in 2015, a decline of almost one-third. Department statistics show the city on pace for a similar number of deaths this year.
(33.3 murders per 100,000 population)
This New Jersey city is the poster child for the troubled inner cities of the Rust Belt, with those dire socio-economic conditions fueling violent crime. Last year, the city hired its first-ever public safety director, Anthony Ambrose, the former Newark police chief. Ambose told WPIX TV 11 earlier this year that a typical day is “hell,” as the city fights violent crime with a police force that has been reduced roughly 40 percent by budget cuts in recent years.
(33.8 murders per 100,000 population)
Although no one was killed in the riots that struck Baltimore in late April 2015, those incidents underscored the frustration in this port city. Many residents in high-crime neighborhoods are appalled by violence, yet highly distrustful of police efforts to fight the problem — a common problem in almost every city on this list. And in the wake of those riots, Baltimore experienced its deadliest year ever in 2015, with 344 homicides, up from 211 in 2014.
3. New Orleans
(38.7 murders per 100,000 population)
The shooting death of former New Orleans Saint star Will Smith after a minor traffic accident in April 2016 shone the spotlight on the longstanding problems with violent crime in this city. The city’s high poverty level only tells part of the story. A New Orleans Time-Picayune study blamed a number of factors for the city’s high murder rate, including the prevalence of gangs, easy access to guns, and a high incarceration rate that shatters families. And part of the city’s violent culture is rooted in history; the paper notes that even in the pre-Civil War era, New Orleans had a homicide rate five to 10 times higher than comparable Northern cities.
(43.5 murders per 100,000 population)
This once great American city has been down for so long, there is seemingly nowhere to go but up. And while there are many encouraging signs in the Motor City — including the well-documented influx of millennials into decaying neighborhoods — the murder rate annually ranks among the highest in the U.S. The 298 murders in Detroit in 2014 actually were the fewest there in 47 years, according to Forbes.com. On the other hand, remember that the city has lost roughly 60 percent of its population in that time. And that 43.5 murders-per-capita rate is still about 10 times higher than the national average.
1. St. Louis
(49.9 murders per 100,000 population)
St. Louis recorded 159 homicides in 2014. Things got even worse in 2015; St. Louis police investigated 188 murders, most in the city since 1995. And the city was on the same pace through the first half of 2016.