Most Violent Cities in the World: Which U.S. Cities Made the List?
The most violent cities in the world are clustered in Latin America, according to a recent ranking by the Citizens’ Council for Public Security, a Mexican nonprofit group. Nineteen of the cities with the highest per capita murder rate per 100,000 residents were in Brazil, eight were in Mexico, and seven were in Venezuela. (Only cities with a population over 300,000 were ranked.)
Those figures might not surprise anyone who’s gotten used to seeing news stories about violence in places, such as Caracas and Juarez. But what might be more unexpected is the country with the fourth-highest number of cities on the list: the United States.
Four U.S. towns ranked among the world’s most dangerous, according to the council’s ranking. Some had higher murder rates than non-U.S. cities with notoriously unsavory reputations (at least among some Americans), such as Cali, Colombia; Kingston, Jamaica; or Tijuana, Mexico.
The American cities with the highest murder rates probably won’t shock anyone who keeps an eye on national crime figures, though. They include downtrodden cities in the Midwest, on the East Coast, and in the South.
What city isn’t on the list? Perpetual punching bag Chicago. Although murders were way up in Chicago in 2016 and violence in the city captured national attention, the city had a per capita homicide rate of 27.7 per 100,000. That’s higher than many other large U.S. cities but not enough for it to rank among the world’s most violent. The city at the bottom of the council’s rankings, Durban, South Africa, had a homicide rate of 34.43 per 100,000.
Chicago might not be among the most violent cities in the world, but one of its Midwestern neighbors definitely is.
- Worldwide rank: 36
- Murder rate per 100,000 residents: 44.60
Detroit had 302 murders in 2016 and a population of 677,116. In 2015, the Motor City had the second-highest violent crime rate in the U.S. after St. Louis, according to FBI data. (You’ll see St. Louis later on this list.) That year, there were 880 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents. While some parts of the city, such as the downtown area, are undergoing a resurgence, other neighborhoods are still struggling with poverty and violence, MLive reported.
The second U.S. city on the list has long struggled with violent crime. It had the highest murder rate in the U.S. in the 1990s.
3. New Orleans
- Worldwide rank: 34
- Murder rate per 100,000 residents: 45.17
New Orleans had 176 murders in 2016 and a population of 389,617. The city had more per capita shootings than Chicago in 2016, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported, with an average of 10 incidents per week. That’s a rate of 133 per 100,000 residents. Still, the number of murders is much lower than it was in the mid-’90s. In 1994, 424 people were killed in the city, and the murder rate was 86 per 100,000 residents.
Violence in the next city captured national attention in 2015 after a controversial arrest.
- Worldwide rank: 26
- Murder rate per 100,000 residents: 51.14
Baltimore had 318 murders in 2016 and a population of 621,849. It’s the second-most violent city in the U.S., according to the Citizens’ Council for Public Security’s ranking. The city made national news in 2015 due to riots following the Freddie Gray arrest, and not much has been done to address the city’s problems in the intervening years, the Baltimore Sun reported. Crime is up, and arrests are down. 2016 was the second-deadliest in the city after 2015.
The most violent city in the U.S. is in Missouri.
1. St. Louis
- Worldwide rank: 14
- Murder rate per 100,000 residents: 60.37
St. Louis was the most violent city in the U.S. and the 14th most violent in the world in 2016. The Midwestern city was just slightly less violent than Cape Town, South Africa, in terms of number of people killed per 100,000 residents. In 2016, there were 188 murders in St. Louis, which had a population of 311,404. Violent crimes were up 4.4% in 2016 over 2015, according to data from the St. Louis Police Department.
Several other cities on the council’s list share a close connection with the United States.
Most dangerous border cities
In addition to the four cities within the United States on the list, several Mexican cities that share a border with the U.S. also ranked among the world’s most violent.
Because people in border communities often move back and forth between countries for work, school, and family reasons, we’ve mentioned them here. However, crime in border cities doesn’t necessarily spill over into the U.S. Two of the safest cities in the United States (according to Congressional Quarterly) abut two cities with a high murder rate.
Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
- Worldwide rank: 37
- Murder rate per 100,000 residents: 43.63
Juárez, which shares a border with El Paso, Texas, had 607 murders in 2016 and a population of 1.39 million. The murder rate was just slightly lower than in Detroit.
While violence is clearly a problem in Juárez, the situation has improved from a few years ago, when drug cartel wars caused some to dub it the most dangerous city in the world. In 2010, at least 3,000 people were killed in the city. The number of murders eventually fell, but in the past year or so, there’s been another uptick in violence.
- Worldwide rank: 22
- Murder rate per 100,000 residents: 53.06
Tijuana shares a border with San Diego. With a combined population of nearly 5 million, the two cities make up the second-largest cross-border metro area in the U.S. (after Detroit and Windsor, Ontario). The region is also home to the busiest land border crossing in the world. On the Mexican side, there were 871 murders in 2016, making it the most violent year in the city’s history, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Tijuana has a population of about 1.6 million.
Most of the murder victims are drug addicts and low-level dealers, according to the Union-Tribune. The number of killings in the city has recently started to rise again after dropping off following a previous spate of violence from 2008 to 2010.
The final two places we’re highlighting from the list of most violent cities aren’t near the U.S. border, but they attract lots of American tourists.
Dangerous vacation destinations
Several of the most violent cities in the world are — or once were — popular vacation destinations for Americans. While crime and other factors mean these cities aren’t necessarily the hot spots they might have been in the past, they’re likely to attract more U.S. tourists than some other spots on the council’s list.
- Worldwide rank: 27
- Murder rate per 100,000 residents: 48.75
The resort town of Mazatlan on the Pacific coast is back on the list of the world’s most violent cities. (It last made the ranking in 2012.) In 2016, there were 245 murders in the city of 502,547, and its murder rate was slightly lower than Baltimore’s. However, the city is generally safe for tourists, especially if you stay within the city center.
The second-most violent city in the world was once a posh vacation destination for the rich and famous.
- Worldwide rank: 2
- Murder rate per 100,000 residents: 113.24
Acapulco, where stars including Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra once vacationed, is now the second-most violent city in the world, just behind Caracas, Venezuela. While resort areas in popular tourist destinations are often relatively insulated from serious crime, that’s not necessarily the case in Acapulco, where murders have happened on the beach in full view of visitors.
Holland America cruise line recently eliminated the Pacific coast city from its list of ports of call because of security concerns. The U.S. government also has Acapulco on its list of no-go places for employees.