What makes a state dangerous, and what statistics determine the score? The FBI gathers information from law enforcement agencies across the country, calculating crime cases per 100,000 people to determine the most dangerous states. When the numbers come together, they can help form a clearer picture of where and what kinds of criminal activity occur. Keep in mind, however, that numbers don't always tell the whole story. Crime is a sociological phenomenon, and statistics don't consider the influences of numerous economic and social issues.
The vast Alaskan wilderness is a mostly rural landscape with limited access to roads and services in many towns. In 2019, 867 crimes occurred per 100,000 people, and the desolate landscape is undoubtedly one of the contributing factors. Women are at a higher risk of experiencing violence, specifically Native Alaskan women. A lack of economic opportunity greatly affects the crime rate, with 2018 having the highest unemployment rate in correlation with soaring crime. Many of the violent crimes reported occurred at home, suggesting that Alaska's high unemployment and substance abuse rates are significant factors.
Broad deserts dominate New Mexico's landscapes, with towns scattered along several highways. Two major illegal drug trade routes pass through the state's largest city, Albuquerque. Illegal drug trades make Albuquerque the 9th most dangerous city in America, which heavily contributes to a high crime rate in the state. In 2019, 832 incidents of crime per 100,000 residents were reported in New Mexico. This state also has rising poverty rates and very few social programs, which undoubtedly increase inner-state violence.
Memphis is the third most dangerous city in America, a relevant factor in Tennessee's higher-than-average statistics. About 595 out of every 100,000 people were victims of violent crimes in 2019, a third of which happened in Memphis. It's good that rates are on a downtrend after a steady incline from 2013 to 2017. Tennessee's poverty rate is also among the highest in the nation.
Arkansas' crime rates were on a downward trend in 2018, but 2019 saw a spike in violent crimes, rising to 584 crimes per capita. One reason could be that Arkansas has one of the country's highest poverty rates despite ranking below the national average in unemployment. Consequently, the state also has a higher percentage of incarcerations than over a dozen more populous states. Most violent crimes occur in metropolitan areas, especially Arkansas' most dangerous city, West Memphis.
Louisiana has the highest imprisonment rate in the country and also one of the highest poverty rates. These conditions are likely adding to Louisiana's crime levels, which increased in 2019 to affect 549 of every 100,000 people. Another contributing factor is the elevated unemployment rate, which was especially high in 2018. It's not uncommon for crime to occur in areas with limited economic opportunities, such as fewer jobs.
Although violent crimes have decreased significantly over the past decade, South Carolina's numbers hit a six-year high in 2019. About 511 out of every 100,000 people experienced violent crime, with significant increases in homicides. South Carolina also has some of the highest incidents of aggravated assault. It's impossible to ignore the state's higher-than-average poverty rates under these circumstances, considering that most of these offenses occurred at a residence.
Violent crimes in Alabama are gradually declining, but the state remains one of the most dangerous, with 510 people per capita experiencing violence in 2019. Crimes against women are slightly increasing, with the majority of incidents happening at home or school. Alabama's above-average incarceration and poverty rates might have something to do with these numbers. Birmingham is Alabama's largest city, but shockingly, this area has a lower percentage of crime than some of the state's smaller towns.
In 2019, Missouri saw a slight decrease in violent crime, with 495 offenses per capita, though homicide and incarceration rates are rising. St. Louis is the second most dangerous city in the country and inspired the Department of Justice to launch Operation Legend in 2020. This movement was named for a young boy who died tragically in a shooting. The initiative is a coordinated effort between local and federal law enforcement agencies to fight violent crime in St. Louis. Operation Legend has since spread to other cities, including Memphis and Albuquerque.
Despite making this list, things are looking better in Nevada. In 2019, approximately 493 out of every 100,000 people experienced violent crime, a drastic reduction in the state's numbers from a decade ago. Declining rates of murder and robbery contributed to the improved statistics, although rising sexual abuse cases were a cause for concern in 2018. Most violent crimes took place in Nevada's metropolitan centers, with North Las Vegas ranked the state's most dangerous city.
Violent crime is down in Arizona, with 455 cases of violence per 100,000 people reported in 2019. While the number of violent crimes is declining, rates of sexual abuse are relatively higher with minimal improvement. Between 2014 and 2017, Arizona saw rapidly rising levels of violent crime, which may have had something to do with its unusually high incarceration rates. Prison populations grew twice as fast as the state's population in the last two decades, which scholars fear is doing communities more harm than good.