Top 5 most surprisingly safe big cities in America

Safety Team
Updated Mar 10, 2021
4 min read
It’s the American dream - a decent job, family, and a home with a white picket fence. More often than not you’ve probably imagined that home in a safe, low-crime neighbourhood, especially if you have children. Chances are that idyllic safe life that you’re envisioning is happening somewhere in a small-town, away from the lights, noise and major crime of the big city - but that’s not always necessarily the case.

While statistically-speaking, smaller cities generally tend to be safer, some big cities in America are surprisingly safe. And while violent crime rates in the United States have decreased by half in the past 20 years, many Americans wrongly believe that it’s increased.

In no particular order, here are some of the most surprisingly safe big cities in America.

  1. New York City, New York
  2. Los Angeles, California
  3. Washington, District of Columbia
  4. Chicago, Illinois
  5. Boston, Massachusetts

New York City, NY

Dark City


The Big Apple often gets a bad rap as being one of the most dangerous cities in the United States, but when you look at the crime data, you can clearly see that it’s not a fair title.

While 49% of Americans believe New York to be either fairly unsafe or very unsafe, it actually has a murder rate per 100,000 (5) that is less than one quarter of that in Philadelphia (21.5), the most surprisingly dangerous big city in America.

Incidents of reported rape and vehicle theft are also lower in New York City than any of the others on the list, 14 per 100,000 and 98 per 100,000 respectively.

Los Angeles, CA

Tied for third with Washington, DC with regards to perceived level of safety, 48% of respondents in the YouGov survey said they considered the City of Angels to be fairly unsafe or very unsafe, but the numbers tell a different story.

Los Angeles’ murder rate is only 7.75 per 100,000, second lowest aside from New York and the assault rate of 216 per 100,000 puts it at the bottom of the list for that reported crime. The city’s robbery rate is also the lowest of the bunch at 233 per 100,000.

So while you might think of Los Angeles as being unsafe thanks to the stereotypes of gangs, car chases and other crimes stories seen on the news, that’s not the reality.

Washington, DC

Jefferson Love Memorial

Nicolas Raymond/Flickr

Like Los Angeles, 48% of Americans surveyed said they believed Washington to be either fairly unsafe or very unsafe. And, like Los Angeles, the numbers paint a different picture.

The murder rate in Washington is middle of the road with 13 per 100,000, as is the incidence of rape at 37 per 100,000. While they are middle of the road, given how safe certain cities like Atlanta, Georgia are perceived (with a murder rate of 19 per 100,000 and incidence of rape at 26 per 100,000), Washington can be considered surprisingly safe comparatively.

The Capital was again middle of the list for reported incidents of assault (538 per 100,000), robbery (589 per 100,000), and vehicle theft (561 per 100,000).

Chicago, Il

Cloud Gate Chicago (Explore)

Bert Kaufmann/Flickr

Chicago was considered the least safest big city in America, with 53% of those surveyed saying that they considered it to be either fairly unsafe or very unsafe.

But crime in The Windy City isn’t quite as bad as many believe. Incidents of robbery and assault (498 per 100,000 and 453 per 100,000 respectively) are about middle of the pack for those cities we looked at, and the murder rate was also at 18 per 100,000.

There is no data on reported incidents of rape as Chicago does not use the accepted reporting standards used in the rest of the country and so we were unable to include that for analyzation.

Boston, MA

Boston skyline

Bert Kaufmann/Flickr

When you look at Beantown’s incidence of rape (39 per 100,000, putting it third on the list of cities in the survey) and assault (483 per 100,000, fifth on the list of cities in the survey) it might seem like a surprisingly dangerous big city.

Surprising then is that only 27% of those surveyed said they considered Boston to fairly or very unsafe. The city’s low murder rate per capita (9 per 100,000) could likely be a contributing factor to this perception.

The city also has the second-lowest incidence of vehicle theft at a rate of 258 per 100,000 and fares well on the other crimes rates we looked at.


In order to create this list, we looked at the most recent survey by YouGov that found which big cities in the United States that Americans consider to be the safest.

Then, using data from the FBI’s 2012 uniform crime report, we explored the incidence of total reported violent crime rates including:

  • Murder
  • Assault
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Motor vehicle theft

We ranked each city according to the incidence of each of the above five crimes, with a heavier weight given to more violent and serious personal crimes such as murder and rape. We adjusted the total rate of crimes to per 100,000 to more easily compare the cities. Totalling the scores when compared to their perceived level of safety, we then determined that the following cities are some of the most surprisingly safe big cities in all of America.

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Safety Team

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