The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports are a useful tool for understanding the crime statistics in metropolitan areas across the country. We’ve pored over them in the past and found a lot to dig into. But a lot has changed since our last roundup of FBI data. This summer, we’ve studied the most recent numbers available, which tracks data from 2015, as well as some additional information regarding the early part of 2016, to understand the shifts in violent crime rates across Texas.
Let’s start with a few brief takeaways:
Violent Crime Reports Across Texas Are Slightly Up
It’s important to keep in mind that we don’t know if the incidents of violent crime are actually up, or if it’s simply that those incidents are being reported with greater frequency. Note that these are just the violent crime rates, not the overall crime rates (which, at least in some cities, are falling).
These are important things to keep in mind when you look at numbers. Across the 24 metro areas in the 2015 study, the number of violent crimes reported is up from 2013 by about 30 incidents per city. Of course, those incidents aren’t evenly distributed—and where we’ve seen increases might surprise you.
West Texas is Reportedly More Violent Than Other Parts of The State
The biggest number on the entire list comes to us out of Odessa, with 1,070.1 violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents. That rate is far and away the largest in Texas. In second place is Lubbock, with 825.4 per 100,000. The vast majority of those incidents in Odessa are aggravated assault instances—more than 880 of the 1,070—and the murder rate is 7.6 per 100,000. The situation is similar in Lubbock, where nearly three-quarters of the incidents are aggravated assault. (Lubbock sees more robberies than Odessa, despite fewer violent crimes overall.) At number five on the list is Amarillo, which puts three of the five cities with the highest rates of violent crime in West Texas. And when it comes to Odessa and Lubbock, those numbers are way up over the 2013 reports: nearly 25 percent higher in both cities.
Houston is Still The Most Dangerous Big City in Texas
Once you get out of the rising crime rates in the western part of the state, the biggest city to rank in the top five is Houston. That’s not a change from 2013, and in fact, the violent crime rate in Houston is almost unchanged over that same time period. (In 2013, it was 559 incidents per 100,000 people; in 2015, that number is 566.6, well below the state average.) In terms of the types of crimes being reported in Houston, the shift there is a bit more pronounced: The murder rate is slightly up, at 6.9 murders per 100,000 residents, instead of 5.9, and more than 14 additional rapes within that segment were reported, as well. The rates for robbery and aggravated assault, meanwhile, are both down.
Violent Crime Rates Rose Dramatically in Nine Cities
In addition to Lubbock and Odessa, violent crime rates shot up by nearly 30 percent in Abilene, San Angelo, and Sherman. They were up by roughly 20 percent in Brownsville and Waco, and more than 15 percent in Midland and Corpus Christi. There don’t seem to be clear patterns around any of those spikes—the cities are all geographically disparate, in West, Central, North, and South Texas. In Brownsville and Corpus, the murder rate is stable; in Abilene and Waco, it’s up dramatically, tripling in Waco and up from a very low 0.6 per 100,000 in Abilene to 5.3.
But because we’re talking about cities with relatively small populations, those numbers may not be indicative of much. The Abilene metropolitan statistical area has a population of around 166,000, which means that in 2013, there may have been only one reported murder, while in 2015, there were a handful. It’d be much more troubling to see dramatic swings in numbers like that in a city like Houston or Dallas, where each number per 100,000 represents dozens of people.
Let’s Talk About The Rise in Reported Rapes
Even in cities where the number of reported violent crimes are going down, the number of reported rapes are up basically across the board. That seems troubling at first glance, but it’s dangerous to draw conclusions about the number of rapes that are actually occurring in any of these cities based on the number of reports. Rape is a frequently under-reported crime, and the past several years have seen a concerted education campaign at college campuses and in broader culture aimed at talking about what the crime looks like. So it’s entirely possible that the rise in reports is a reflection of that education.
College Station, Laredo, Texarkana, and Victoria All Saw Their Rates Fall Considerably
Again, it’s tricky to draw too many conclusions from small cities, but the number of violent crimes was down dramatically in College Station, Laredo, Texarkana, and Victoria. Because we’re talking about cities with small populations (Corpus, with 440,000, is the largest—none of the others break much past 250,000), it’s possible to confuse outliers with trends. Still, it’s worth noting that each city saw their violent crime rates fall by 10 percent or more even as the trend bucked in the other direction for much of the rest of the state.
Austin Has The Lowest Violent Crime Rate in Texas
It’s long been noted that Austin is something of a fairytale land where violence is rare, and at least compared to the rest of the state, that tends to bear out. Although Austin’s violent crime rate of 287.7 per 100,000 is slightly up from 2013, it’s grown at a much slower rate than any comparably safe city over the past couple of years, putting Austin in the top spot for safe Texas cities. The murder rate is down; the number of aggravated assaults are down; the reported rapes are up significantly (which, as we noted earlier, doesn’t necessarily mean anything about the amount of crimes committed), and the number of robberies is up slightly. Generally speaking, though, Austin is still an extremely safe city.