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Posted at 3:12 PM ET, 11/22/2010

Most dangerous cities in America? St. Louis, here I come!

By Alexandra Petri


The CQ Press just came out with its list of most dangerous cities in America. I know where I'm moving! Colonie, N.Y.? No, even though its crime rate is 82.49 points below the national average. That would be lulling myself into a false sense of security.

I'm going to St. Louis -- number one in the rankings!

True, there is always a lot of controversy surrounding this kind of report, from people saying things like, "I wish you wouldn't use our data this way; there are a lot of factors that go into crime," and other people saying things like, "It generates discussion, and that's healthy," to still other people saying things like, "While you were discussing this, I was robbed at gunpoint eight times!" So there seems to be a range of opinion.

The FBI, whose "Crime in the United States 2009" served as the basis for the report, warned that:

Each year when Crime in the United States is published, some entities use reported figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, or region. Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents.

That's true. After reading the report, I had a vision of a plucky group of outsider criminals getting together after school in St. Louis with their teacher Mr. Schuester. "Do you want to make it to nationals?" Mr. Shue asks, "Then we really ought to jack a few more cars!" "Yeah, Mr. Shue!" the criminals respond, "Otherwise Camden's going to take the title for another year in a row!" Based on this, I picture Camden as the Vocal Adrenaline of crime-ridden cities. "Please, we always win," I picture its gangs saying. "We don't even need to try this year. We're going to take tonight off and go volunteer at the soup shelter."

The U.S. Conference of Mayors called this a "premeditated statistical mugging of America's cities." That's my favorite kind of mugging! It's better than the non-premeditated, non-statistical kind, which is what you get in St. Louis (according to the report.)

But every year, I eagerly scan through the list of most dangerous cities, looking for danger and excitement. I'm moving out of New York City! Too safe! It's only the 269th most dangerous city, according to these composite crime rankings! I'm moving somewhere dangerous like Topeka (#146) or Portland (#174). Portland must be dangerous because of all the bicycles! Bicycles are like cars but with a greater sense of entitlement.

Sometimes I think that the area I am living in is not dangerous enough, so I run outdoors and paint a mural. Little-known fact: the more murals a neighborhood has, the less safe it is. Walking past an actual mugging scares me less than coming down a dark alley late at night and seeing a mural entitled The Triumph of the Human Spirit. That tells you that you are probably not going to make it out of there intact.

I once took a self-defense course that said that if someone approached you and started to take your belongings or your virtue, you were supposed to yell specific things at the passersby. "You! You in the orange shirt!" you were supposed to scream, and the person in the orange shirt was supposed to come to your aid. I worry that this would happen to me when the only defining characteristic of the person walking by was something I didn't want to comment on. "You, with the unsightly mole!" "You! You with the seeing-eye dog!" "You! Obese man!" I would wind up just saying polite, euphemistic things and not getting any assistance. "You! Beautiful person!" "You, valued individual whom I am sure many people love!"

Sure, living in a crime-filled area can be annoying and dangerous. It forces you to invest heavily in pepper spray. If you aren't good with the pepper spray, it forces you to develop poor money management skills to take the "pay-off" out of it for the mugger. "Sorry, I have already spent all my money on mascarpone and Hummel dolls!" you will say, turning your pockets inside out. Apparently, cars are more unnerved by it than people. Sometimes you come out of the door in the morning and notice that your car has decided it can't take it anymore, even though it has your iPod and one of your credit cards inside it at the time.

But if I really want danger, this might not be the best approach. According to the 2007 mortality data from the National Vital Statistics Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the real dangers are from things like heart disease, malignant neoplasms, and accidents.

In 2007, more than 123,000 people perished in accidents whereas 18,000 died in assaults. But some of those don't sound like accidents to me. For instance, "Water, air and space, and other and unspecified transport accidents and their sequelae" result in 1816 untimely annual demises, and that sentence doesn't seem like it rules out "human catapult" as a form of "unspecified transport."

Still, they say most people know their killers. That's why I keep refusing to add "Heart Disease" as a friend on Facebook.

By Alexandra Petri  | November 22, 2010; 3:12 PM ET
Categories:  Epic Failures, Petri, Worst Things Ever  | Tags:  city, scary  
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Not funny. This topic seems inappropriate for such flippancy.

Posted by: IceCity | November 22, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Not funny. And anyway, this topic is inappropriate for such flippancy.

Posted by: IceCity | November 22, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

St. Louis? More dangerous than East St. Louis? You got to be kidding.

Posted by: lufrank1 | November 22, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

When I lived in Portland, Ore., the city's low homicide rate was impressive, but in the space of just a couple of years, the area where I lived was spotted with several deaths. Not to mention a labrador retriever was killed by a device worthy of the Unabomber on one of the city's nicest streets.

Portland is working on reducing bicycle fatalities, which are still disturbingly high.

In the 1960s, my recollection is that Philadelphia police commissioner Frank Rizzo bragged about his city having half the crime rate of New York City. Unfortunately, victimization surveys showed that Philadelphia was in fact far more dangerous. Back then, it seems that not even New York was compiling accurate homicide statistics, while Philly's statistics were worthy of Stalin.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | November 22, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Chicago isn't in the study because it doesn't report all the necessary crime statistics. So a list of the "most dangerous cities in America" that doesn't even take int oaccount some of America's largest cities is pretty worthless.

Posted by: simpleton1 | November 22, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

You get paid to write this crap? How do I get a job like yours?

Posted by: freshlyroasted | November 22, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Good article. Haven't been to St Louis in about 20 years but some friends, who go to a lot of cities, said it is also probably the most boring. Not even the threat of getting hit over the head overcomes the sheer banality of downtown.

Posted by: glynnjp1 | November 22, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Are you kidding me? You could hardly contain your own own laughter as you wrote this, right? Absolute comedy writing genius! Well maybe not, if you or a loved one has been a victim of violent crime. Maybe I'm missing something; perhaps your editor said "Write something about crime rates in different cities, but use your clever wit and really make this one funny". A real journalist might have taken a different approach to this article, but who am I to question this? You people at the Wash Post know what's best.

Posted by: dwhite3 | November 22, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

An undeniable fact of American life: The more Blacks and Latinos in a city, the more crime there is and less civilized the city.

Posted by: Ruhu | November 22, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Do you get paid?

Posted by: rusty3 | November 22, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

This piece of crap won the high school essay contest?

Posted by: squier13 | November 22, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: drnosewater | November 22, 2010 10:00 PM | Report abuse

Ignore the comment naysayers. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: kmath | November 22, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Forget St. Louis! This comment section is the most dangerous place to be by far. Check out these electronic muggings by proxy:

_IceCity : Not funny. This topic seems inappropriate for such flippancy.

_IceCity: Not funny. And anyway, this topic is inappropriate for such flippancy.
[And anyway, I liked it better the first way.]

_ freshlyroasted : You get paid to write this crap? How do I get a job like yours?
[How about a brain transplant?]

_dwhite3: Absolute comedy writing genius!`
[He didn’t mean it, but a sarcastic mugging means a lighter sentence]

_rusty3: Do you get paid?
[Yes, she gets 2 reuben sandwiches a day]

_squier13: This piece of crap won the high school essay contest?
[No, but your comment came in last]

[Hey! Blow your snotty nosewater more quietly]

Aren’t you guys afraid of getting caught? The penalty for an electronic mugging by proxy is a hi-tech lynching by uppity commenters like me who deign to think for themselves.

Did any of you get the point that we’re too worried about being murdered when we’re 7 times more likely to die from accidents? Here are the yearly U.S. death stats from the link she provided:

18,361 Homicides (including St. Louis)
34,598 Suicides
123,706 Accidental deaths
562,875 Cancer deaths
806,156 Cardiovascular deaths

Colonie, NY may have the lowest crime rate, but you’re 100 times more likely to kill yourself from the boredom. However, if you move to St. Louis and quit smoking, you’ll be 100 times less likely to die next year!

Posted by: divtune | November 22, 2010 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Sigh, another stupid journalist with a deadline takes a press release and doesn't bother to do any actual reporting. The ranking of cities is meaningless; it doesn't include the same definition because different cities have different annexation policies and possibilities regarding annexation. DC for example does NOT include low crime suburbs in VA and MD for obvious reasons they cannot annex them. Of course ranking metropolitan statistical areas would be more meaningful but that would not result in a sexy list since none of the major cities, with the exception of Miami and New Orleans would be highly ranked (look up Wikipedia on CQ Press' rankings). Oh and the article omits to mention that CQ Press is a profit making site that charges $70 for the results; seems like the Post is giving it a little free publicity.

Posted by: ianstuart | November 22, 2010 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Saint Louis boring? You, dear writer, are boring. Saint Louis is way funner than you.

Posted by: trh123 | November 22, 2010 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Author took a worthless self-defense course. There is an unfailing, one-word defense in moments of direct personal threat. Shout 'FIRE' as loudly as you can. Panic helps. Works every time, you'll have more help at your elbow than you ever imagined possible.

(From experience.)

Posted by: lkrndu | November 23, 2010 4:05 AM | Report abuse

This was absolutely hilarious! By far the funniest thing I've ever read in the WaPo - keep it up.

Posted by: Dan31 | November 23, 2010 6:45 AM | Report abuse

The most dangerous cities all have one thing in common. They are run by brain dead libs and have been for years. Liberalism causes high crime. Objectively proven fact.

Posted by: illogicbuster | November 23, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Ha ha? Wait. Where am I? There was supposed to be a witty blog around here somewhere...

Oh yeah! Now I get it -- crime is funny when it happens in somebody else's city/neighborhood! * LOLZ n smirkz *

Posted by: austinlcj | November 23, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

In the past month there've been 4 robberies in my immediate work vicinity -- quibble about stats, but crime is definitely abundant in St. Louis. The really big crimes, however, include: that St. Louis has as many alderman now (pop. 350K) as it did in 1950 (Pop. 800K) each making $30K/yr part time, the outright theft of 1% of my wages by the city earnings tax, voter fraud, and other symptoms of Democrat-induced urban blight... poverty, drugs, STDs, homelessness -- all to be 'solved' by merging City with the hapless
St. Louis County. Change we can chew on, then spit out.

Posted by: berto1 | November 23, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

illogicbuster, you're a freakin' genius. You've figgered it out! "Liberalism causes high crime. Objectively proven fact."

I just checked the CQ Press ranking list and found that your declaration is, in fact, "objectively proven" right there in the report.

Well-known bastions of conservatism, Austin TX and Boulder CO, ranked 203 and 296, respectively. And liberal pinko cesspools like Tulsa OK and Dayton OH ranked 28 and 20, respectively. So, yeah. Good call. You're a logic MASTER!

Posted by: austinlcj | November 23, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

This is just bad. While we may not be able to avoid a 'p/funny WaPo' can we at least have a half decent writer? Connections should only take you so far. I don't mind joking about gauche stuff if it's done well and digs a little into the topic at hand but there's nothing worse than a forced Glee-related joke about kids living in inescapable violent cities.

Posted by: punctiliouspig | November 25, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

This is just bad. While we may not be able to avoid a 'p/funny WaPo' can we at least have a half decent writer? Connections should only take you so far. I don't mind joking about gauche stuff if it's done well and digs a little into the topic at hand but there's nothing worse than a forced Glee-related joke about kids living in inescapable violent cities.

Posted by: punctiliouspig | November 25, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

As one criminologist put it, this ranking is completely bogus because it tries to rank watermelons and grapes in the same ranking. This ends up being a ranking of cities whose boundaries encircle the small inner core of their overall metro areas. So Houston ranks low and St. Louis high, even though Houston likely has higher crime in both their inner core, and in their suburbs. At the full metro level, where it really is apples to apples, St. Louis falls to 103 where one might expect, and Houston moves up to 27th. Why do supposedly reputable publications report this junk science list year after year?

Posted by: ZGare | November 25, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Groan City.

Posted by: punctiliouspig | November 25, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

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