Los Angeles is One of America's Safest Big Cities

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Retiring in LA

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Los Angeles has a lingering reputation regarding crime and safety. However, the idea that Los Angeles is a generally unsafe place to live is a myth. Crime rates in Los Angeles are low and have been on the decline for many years.

Retiree Judy Fenton, who has lived in and around Los Angeles since the age of six, feels very comfortable navigating the city:

“I’ve never felt unsafe in Los Angeles. There are certain parts of the round judycity where I certainly wouldn’t go walking around at night—just like any other big city—but I grew up there. I feel like it’s my city. Every place I’ve traveled around the world, there are parts of the city you don’t walk around at night or drive through, and I don’t think Los Angeles is any different. Big cities are big cities.”

The city of Los Angeles experienced a violent era during the crack cocaine epidemic of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Gang violence made regular headlines, and it was during this time that parts of Los Angeles rightfully earned a reputation as crime ridden and unsafe. Popular music, movies, and television shows inspired by gang activity proliferated for years, cementing Los Angeles as a dangerous city in the minds of many.

To get a better idea of how Los Angeles has changed since the 1980s, consider the murder rate. In 1980 there were 32.4 homicides for every 100,000 residents; in 2013 there were only 6.3. In fact, the Los Angeles Police Department reported in 2012 that crime in the city had declined for the tenth consecutive year.

Los Angeles has much less violent crime than it once did, but how does it stack up against other major cities? When ranking all U.S. cities with a population of at least 25,000 for violent crime, Los Angeles doesn’t even make the top 100. Violent crime in large cities has decreased across the country, and Los Angeles’ rate is below the national average. Today, the 30 U.S. cities with the highest murder rates are mostly mid-sized metropolitan areas or smaller urban centers adjacent to large cities.

To make a more even comparison, let’s look at the country’s ten most populated cities. Using data from the most recent FBI uniform crime report to rank cities from highest to lowest, Los Angeles is near the bottom, ranking seventh for violent and property crime rates—behind cities like Dallas, San Antonio, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Houston, and Chicago.

Line graph showing violent crime rates in largest US cities

*Crime rates reflect the number of offenses per 100,000 population

line graph showing property crime rates of largest US cities

*Crime rates reflect the number of offenses per 100,000 population

Sally Sussman has lived in Los Angeles with her husband for 46 years, and her sentiments echo the data:

“If you are going to worry about safety in L.A, you might as well settle on the idea that you’re not safe anywhere anymore. My daughter in Indianapolis had a shooting around the corner from her. My son-in-law will not allow his children to walk to school by themselves. Any city, any place, will have some crime. Not just big cities either.”

“Los Angeles is no better or worse than most places, and I’m not paranoid. We’ve traveled extensively all over the world. I’m not provincial nor a fool. I know that the whole world is very dangerous. You’re as safe in New York City as you are anywhere now.”

Even when comparing the biggest California cities, L.A. does not stand out. Los Angeles is behind Oakland, San Francisco, and Sacramento for violent crime rates, and trails those three plus five additional cities for property crimes.

bar graph comparing crime rates of big California cities

*Crime rates reflect the number of offenses per 100,000 population

Overall, Los Angeles is a safe city. It is even more comforting to know that it is the safest for those of retirement age. Across the country, those over the age of 50 have the lowest rates of violent crime victimization of any age group.

Of course every city, regardless of size or location, has safe areas and places to avoid. Common sense should be used when navigating any urban center. But most of Los Angeles is considered safe, especially tourist areas, beaches, and neighborhoods on the western and northern sides of the city.


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