Violent crime rate comparison in international cities
May 6, 2009 7:25 AM   Subscribe

How safe is it to walk around in London compared to major American cities? What are good sources of comparison for violent crime rates in international cities?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 to Law & Government (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't live in a major American city, but I do live in one that for years has been thought to be more dangerous than most major ones.

About London (by which I assume you mean UK, and not Ontario), where I have also stayed briefly (few weeks, various bits, visited many times while living in another English city): Totally safe, though Saturday night in a pub district might be slightly scary. Saturday night in Cambridge is frightening, and that's about as gentrified and safe as any place can get.
posted by jb at 7:34 AM on May 6, 2009

I have no access to statistics, but as someone who lived in London for most of his life and still visits from time to time it really isn't particularly violent. Of course there are areas to avoid, as is the case with all large cities, but I lived there for 38 years and lived to tell the tale.
posted by Chairboy at 7:35 AM on May 6, 2009

Again I'm assuming you mean London UK
posted by Chairboy at 7:36 AM on May 6, 2009

Response by poster: I do mean London UK. Thanks.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:37 AM on May 6, 2009

Oh - I just looked at the category for your question - I have no idea about local crime rates. Of course, local crime rates have no impact on how safe a place is to walk around. I grew up in a neighbourhood with a high local crime, but which was perfectly safe outside at night. Drug dealing, for example, is a crime - and if you don't get between the guy with the money and the guy with the baggie, you are just fine.

So basically, if you are interested in the social phenomenon of crime, you'll want to pull out the stats.

If you are thinking of travelling there, and want to know how safe you'll feel, that's a different question.
posted by jb at 7:37 AM on May 6, 2009

I don't think there is any way at all to compare entire cities, since street crime is such a locally concentrated thing.
posted by smackfu at 7:46 AM on May 6, 2009

Best answer: I can't offer exactly the figures you're after, but many governments publish advice aimed at their own citizens travelling to other countries. This generally includes things like basic crime information, if only at the level of "generally, [city1] is less safe to walk around at night than London...". The British version is published by our Foreign Office, here. I think this is the USA's equivalent, although the site doesn't work properly for me, so I can't check.

You should bear in mind that countries, and possibly even individual cities, will have different standards on crime reporting. If they're working with slightly different criteria on what gets counted as "violent crime", then directly comparing the numbers could be misleading. For what it's worth, googling for crime statistics [city name] found me Metropolitan police crime statistics and New York State crime statistics. smackfu is right though - if you're actually trying to asses your risks in visiting the cities, I suspect this isn't a great way to do it.
posted by metaBugs at 7:51 AM on May 6, 2009

Response by poster: Here's the root of my question: I have spent a lot of time walking around in London and never felt at risk. I have also seen a lot of movies set in American cities in which the protagonist is told "What are you doing walking around here, you're going to get yourself killed!".

I've never had anything like that happen to me in London. So I was wondering if this apparent difference is a Hollywood fiction or if there is a real basis behind the perception that London is safer than New York or LA. I am probably more interested in the poor parts of town than in central tourist areas. I'm sure that there are fewer guns in London, but it doesn't make a significant difference whether I'm robbed with a knife or a gun.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:52 AM on May 6, 2009

To amplify jb, the distribution of violent crime within an area is highly non-random. Most victims know their assailant and the assailant has some gripe against the victim. Almost any statistic you look at will fail to address this statistical clustering and so any comparisons are nearly useless.

People on the whole are not particularly violent and there has been a downward trend over the centuries in state societies. There was an article I read perhaps 15 years ago (in the Atlantic Monthly? Utne Reader? I'll never find it) about the safety of walking across the US. The author's bet with the reader was that he'd be able to walk across the nation concentrating on some of the "worst" areas at the darkest hours. The terms of his bet were that if he lost, he might lose on the grandest scale, if he won, the reader would have to rethink their concept of what urban danger really was. Unfortunately, his article was published at about his half-way mark and the worst that happened to him were some verbal threats not fulfilled.

I do wish I knew how the rest of his walkabout went, but it certainly caused me to rethink the real threat of urban danger.

On preview, Hollywood has given you a vastly distorted view of US violence; there isn't much drama in "man walks through bad neighborhood and nothing happens".
posted by fydfyd at 8:00 AM on May 6, 2009

Response by poster: OK, let's limit the discussion to street robbery. Presumably in most of those the victim doesn't know their assailant. Here is some highly unscientific number crunching I just did:

Here are two poor areas of London:

Hackney - 1004 robberies in a year. Population 209,700 = 478 street robberies per 100,000 people per year

Haringey - 997 robberies in a year. Population 224,700 = 443

Here are two poor areas of New York:

East Harlem - 275 robberies in a year. Population 117,743 = 233

South Bronx - 438 robberies in a year. Population 522,412 = 83 !

So according to my best estimate (which sucks), poor areas of New York are substantially safer for random visitors than poor areas of London.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:36 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

The primary flaw in your thinking is that in the US (and NYC) there is much more random gun violence that has nothing to do with robbery. Not infrequently, random people get caught in gang style shoot outs or in the path of crazy people shooting for unknown reasons.
posted by kimdog at 8:49 AM on May 6, 2009

Another question is whether they report more robberies in Hackney. I doubt most people in the South Bronx who are robbed bother to report it.
posted by musofire at 9:04 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not infrequently, random people get caught in gang style shoot outs or in the path of crazy people shooting for unknown reasons.

No, I'd say by any definition that happens infrequently. And only in the worst of the worst neighborhoods.
posted by smackfu at 9:08 AM on May 6, 2009

East Manitoba - I think you have just gotten a better answer to your own question than any offered here, including my own. And you have indentified that as for the real risk of robbery, there is a great deal of fear mongering within both fiction (eg Hollywood movies) and by people (I've been told that my own neighbourhood is too dangerous for me to walk around in).

Something that may be active in the perceptions of L.A. and New York, which would not be as relevant for London, would be race. The "dangerous" areas of American cities are usually majority-minority areas, either black or hispanic. For white (usually middle-class people) this makes them feel very conspicuous. They are not used to being so different looking to everyone around them. As a white woman, I myself have experienced this feeling of being conspicuously a different race, while walking in Harlem in NY - I felt like everyone could look at me and say "she's not local." I wasn't afraid, because that would be stupid (the streets are a little wide and ugly, like a lot of NYC, but the neighbourhood is great), but I did feel a bit conspicuous and touristy (which I deserved somewhat - I was a tourist); if I had been in a neighbourhood which seemed crime ridden or at all dangerous, or didn't realise why I felt conspicuous, maybe I might have changed this feeling of conspicuousness into one of feeling isolated, even threatened.

Now, I grew up in a bad neighbourhood myself, which is why I know that gangs are more interested in fighting each other and drug dealers don't care about you if you ignore them and pretend you don't see, but a lot of people who didn't get scared. In the city I live in currently, most of the recent muggings have been in the "nice" neigbourhood where the middle class (and, yes, majority white) grad students and professionals live, but the local perception is that it's safer to walk around there than in the majority working class and non-white areas. (Which is bollocks, of course.)

Anyways - I know that London has its own racial issues, but I think that they are of a different (and more diverse) nature than American ones - and that the poor/bad areas are more mixed, such that one doesn't feel so conspicuous on the streets. That doesn't mean that they are safer - as your statistics show - but that they feel safer.
posted by jb at 9:41 AM on May 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

That is feel safer to people who aren't used to being in the racial minority - not that minority-majority areas somehow naturally feel more dangerous.
posted by jb at 9:43 AM on May 6, 2009

Just to throw a monkey wrench into the works here, are you looking for info on crime against locals or against outsiders? I can think of plenty of anecdotal instances where being a tourist either makes you a more attractive target (because of wealth, vulnerability, etc.) or far safer (because of draconian police states designed specifically to protect tourists or simply becaus you stand out so much).
posted by Pollomacho at 9:57 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

My British husband adds: NYC has improved substantially crime-wise in the last 20 years.

Also, muggings in the United States can be more dangerous, due to the fact that many more muggers (or muggees) will have guns. So you might want to compare deaths/murders (since it would show up that way instead of as a simple robbery), but that's harder to identify as stranger-crime (unless they de-aggregate deaths during street-robbery, etc).

He has also just told me the story of being escorted politely, but firmly, out of one London neighbourhood by a mother and her child who thought the area was too dangerous for someone like him (dressed nerdy, Oxbridge accent). So there is at least one local who thought that bit if London was dangerous, even if my husband was oblivious.

He does say that to him, "America just feels safer than Britain," due to the lack of public drunkeness.
posted by jb at 10:04 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

My opinion on this (sorry, don't have any studies handy to back this up) as an ex-London, now Los Angeles resident, is that in London you stand a much greater chance of being pickpocketed or mugged. However the chance of being murdered is drastically lower overall.

Lots fo good points above though, about it not being an entirely apples-to-apples comparison, due to the more racially segregated nature of American cities.
posted by Joh at 10:52 AM on May 6, 2009

I've spent a lot of time in London (UK!) and I have often been quite frightened on the streets - the public drunkeness is alarming, and there is a culture of a good punch-up being quite normal and expected, and also of groups of drunken yobs being verbally aggressive and physically quite threatening, really. The degree of this loutishness seems quite accepted by locals (my sister has lived there for 30 years, in Hackney) but every time I am there I often feel quite uncomfortable on the streets.

Incidentally, this public drunkeness is not confined to Saturday night, though obviously it is worse on the weekend evenings.
posted by Rumple at 11:11 AM on May 6, 2009

I'll echo Rumple here. I lived in London longer that I've lived anywhere else, and I have to say that the issues that you have to deal with in London aren't necessarily comparable to US cities.
posted by ob at 11:45 AM on May 6, 2009

It's also important to remember that a lot of street robbery/associated violence in London is perpetrated by the young on the young (i.e. "Give us yer phone or we'll shank yer!") so I don't think you can necessarily extrapolate from that to a general risk of street robbery for John or Jane Doe.
posted by Chairboy at 4:45 PM on May 6, 2009

I've lived in London, Greece, LA, San Francisco and a host of other places. London is imho, far more dangerous in terms of people being beaten up, stabbed, mugged etc. than any American city and most other cities, especially if you fall into the category of a young man "not from around here". In the 2 years I lived in the UK almost every foreign-born male I knew (all professionals or students) were hassled or outright attacked on the streets at some point, which is basically unheard of in similar demographic in the US.

Most American cities are very safe and the crime rate is very low unless you belong to a gang or what have you. Robbery, random drunken attacks and the like happen far less often in the US, like almost never. I have spent over 15 years in the US and know two people who were mugged, both in NYC, both at night, both in the 80s.

One look at the newspaper dispensing machines in the US tells you everything you need to know about how law abiding the majority of the population is here.
posted by fshgrl at 12:13 AM on May 7, 2009

I've lived in NYC, LA, sundry other cities in the States, plus suburban London, Duesseldorf, Germany, South Africa, and Switzerland. Hold on to your seat: The only place I ever had a real problem was my home, Flint, Michigan (mugged twice, seriously threatened once).

That being said, by the time I lived in the UK, I was old enough to be quite disinterested in night life. I don't enjoy being around drunken louts, and wasn't entirely comfortable, for example, getting from the cinema to the car, even in suburban London (Berkshire). The comment about young-on-young robbery was spot-on. Stats aren't too meaningful.

To be fair about Flint: I was young and routinely spent time in the kinds of places I would not, anywhere else. Oh, and just to tweak any racist noses hanging about, the muggers were white, both times.
posted by Goofyy at 5:46 AM on May 7, 2009

I...know two people who were mugged, both in NYC, both at night, both in the 80s.

Huh. I know two people of identical place, time, and era who were not mugged. One of them being me.

Things much better now, however.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:07 AM on May 7, 2009

(Let me add that my pool is non-tourists only. Sorry, should have said that.)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:08 AM on May 7, 2009

I'd suggest that the media in the UK are perhaps a greater factor in generating fear of crime. Here in Liverpool, it seems that practically every day the front page of the local Echo is reporting some stabbing/murder/robbery. I've never had any trouble, though I have friends who have, but rarely anything worse than kids who think it's funny to randomly crack someone over the head. But that's Liverpool; London is a lot bigger.

I don't know how it goes in the US, but here there is almost an obsession with crime. That's how I'd explain the prevalence of CCTV and ASBOs and other controversial crime fighting measures. So, you know, it's kinda a debate that's clouded by people's perceptions.
posted by Acey at 4:12 PM on May 7, 2009

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