Chicago Is Most Dangerous City Only in the Minds of Americans


Chicago, Ill., is commonly thought of as the most dangerous city in the U.S., as evidenced by the results of a poll published in September 2014 which found that more than half of Americans had made up their minds that this statement was true. Perception, in this case, does not correspond to reality, and the murder rate in the Windy City actually lags behind many other U.S. cities.

In the poll by YouGov, Chicago was the only city believed to be unsafe by a majority of those polled. Fifty-three percent of respondents said that the Illinois city, the third-largest in the U.S., is dangerous. The cities thought to be the next most dangerous in the U.S. were New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Miami. It is important to be aware that the poll’s findings are based on the perception of Chicago in the minds of the respondents, and is not representative of the larger picture of what is happening in the city.

Although FBI statistics place Chicago at the top or very close to the top of murder counts in U.S. cities, the number loses relevance when considering that the city has more residents (over 2.7 million), than all but two other cities in the nation. Based on the fact that the population of the Windy City is the third-largest in the nation, it would stand to reason that more murders would be committed there than in other large cities. However, when murder statistics take into account the population of a city, Chicago is not as dangerous as it is perceived to be in the minds of Americans.

Using the FBI’s 2013 data, murder rates of various American cities were adjusted for population size, which is more accurate than simply using the number of homicides reported. Under that method, the city with the highest rate of homicides in 2013 was Flint, Mich., with 45 murders per 100,000 residents. The next highest city was New Orleans, La., with 41.4 homicides per 100,000, followed by Newark, N.J. with a rate of 40 murders per 100,000 people. Fourth on the list was St. Louis, MO, with a rate of 38 per 100,000, followed by Baltimore, Md. at 37 per 100,000. Although perceived by the majority of Americans polled as the most dangerous city in America, Chicago’s rate of 15 per 100,000 does not even fall in the top ten of murder rates for 2013, even though it has the third-highest population in the U.S.

The reasons for Chicago’s bad reputation are numerous. Many media outlets report only the number of homicides per year, without adjusting for population, offering a false view of the murder rate of the city. Negative press spreads throughout the nation, creating the perception that the Illinois city is an exceptionally dangerous place to live. However, according to CNN, most of the city’s neighborhoods are relatively free from homicides, and it is small pockets of the city which are responsible for most of the murders. In addition, Chicago has a large gang population, which are centered in these smaller areas of the city, yet still account for the majority of homicides, according to CNN.

High profile homicides which occurred in 2013 were also responsible for the bad reputation of Chicago. There was national coverage of the murder of 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton, who was killed in a park in January after her school had let out for the day. Just days prior, Hadiya had performed at President Obama’s second inauguration ceremony. The Chicago murder reached a higher profile in the nation’s collection conscience when the president himself referred to the crime during his State of the Union address in 2013.

What also keeps Chicago on the minds of the nation as the nation’s most dangerous city is the extensive coverage of several extraordinarily violent weekends in 2014 in which multiple people were murdered. Six people were murdered on April 19, 2014, and five people lost their lives on June 1. In the three-day span between July 5 to July 7, a total of 12 people fell victim to murder (four each day). On Aug. 6, 2014, six more were killed, and five were murdered on Sept. 5 and again on Dec. 23.

Multiple murders occur in every state in the nation, but those which occur in the space of one day in Chicago receive extensive national media coverage, which also contributes to the city’s poor reputation, even though its murder rate lags behind a number of other U.S. cities. When taking into account the high level of gang activity in the city, and the subsequent higher possibility of gang warfare, multiple murders in a single day are better explained. It seems that if Chicago truly is “the world’s most dangerous city,” it is so only in the minds of Americans, and surely not in reality.

By Jennifer Pfalz


Pew Research: Despite recent shootings, Chicago nowhere near U.S. ‘murder capital’
Huffington Post: Americans Think Chicago Is The Most Dangerous U.S. City, But It’s Really Not
Huffington Post: These Are The Major U.S. Cities With The Highest Murder Rates, According To The FBI
FBI: Crime in the United States 2013
CNN: Tackling Chicago’s ‘crime gap’

Photo Courtesy of Bert Kaufmann’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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