What makes a city dangerous? What makes it safe?
Obviously, the amount of crime is a key factor, but is safety simply having a low crime rate? How does the police department’s presence or lack thereof influence public safety? Does it make a tangible difference? The answer is difficult to quantify, but it’s probably a combination of both – along with dozens of other factors.
We aimed to find the safest and most dangerous cities in Texas ( with populations over 100,000) by looking at three key factors:
While being a victim of any crime is enough to make one feel unsafe, violent crimes have a much more profound impact on public safety in a city than do property crimes or drug crimes. A violent crime is a crime in which an offender uses or threatens force upon a victim.
According to the FBI, four main offenses are considered violent crimes: murder and non-negligent manslaughter (or homicide), rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
It may be no surprise that of all the Texas cities, Houston has both the highest raw number and rate of violent crime. However, Houston does not have the highest murder rate – which belongs to nearby Beaumont – and is in the bottom third for rate of rape – top spot here goes to Amarillo by a substantial margin.
In an effort to curb gang-related violence, the State of Texas has established seven Texas Anti-Gang Centers across the state. This works as part of Governor Abbott’s public safety strategy to combine the shared capabilities and expertise of local, state, and federal law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies into a unified effort to detect, interdict, and prosecute gangs that pose as a threat to Texans.
Earmarking more resources for the police department does not necessarily ensure lower crime rates and thus make cities safer. However, a study of 239 cities found that nearly all of the ten cities with the heaviest investment in policing saw a drop in either violent crime, property crime or both.
What’s more, according to the Department of Justice, as cities across the nation slashed police department budgets several things have happened:
Recruitment for new police officers is down as well in most cities across Texas, which may not bode well for improving public safety. Rampant budget cuts play a huge factor in not only bringing on new police officers, but keeping the ones they already have.
Due to the low starting pay and dangerous nature of the work, the city of Houston has resorted to offering a $5,000 incentive just to join the force. However, financial incentives aren’t a reality for most cities, and one Texas town even cut the police department from their budget altogether, although it has since returned. These occur on a federal level too, as $1.2 billion in funding was recently cut from the Budget Bill.
Perhaps more than any other socioeconomic factor, poverty has a significant impact on crime and therefore safety. Countless studies have linked the two and regression analysis has shown a significant linear relationship between them, a very strong indicator that where there is more poverty there will be more crime.
Poverty affects more than just those committing the crime. Victimization rates among lower income groups are significantly higher as well. Those in households at or below the federal poverty level (FPL) have violent crime victimization rates of over double those of higher income households AND are nearly three times as likely to be the victim of a gun crime.
One might argue that unemployment has a lot to do with an area’s poverty rate – and our study found that to more or less be the case. Texas cities with high unemployment rates generally have higher rates of poverty.
However, when studied on its own, unemployment rates do correlate with higher crime. One national study found that a 1% increase in unemployment rate increases property crime by 71.13 per 100,000 inhabitants and violent crime by 31.87 per 100,000 inhabitants.
The fact is that schooling significantly reduces criminal activity. Several studies have linked lower educational attainment with higher rates of arrests and incarceration.
According to the Justice Policy Institute, nine out of the 10 states with the highest percentage of population who had attained a high school diploma or above were found to have lower violent crime rates than the national average, compared to just four of the 10 states with the lowest educational attainment per population.
Crime data was sourced from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program.
Police Force officer and budget data was gathered from each city’s police department website.
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