According to the FBI, violent crime and property crime were down nationwide for the first half of 2014 — but did America’s big cities also see drops?

The FBI’s latest Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report took a look at January through June of 2014, determining that “law enforcement agencies throughout the nation showed an overall decrease of 4.6 percent in the number of violent crimes brought to their attention for the first 6 months of 2014 when compared with figures reported for the same time in 2013.”

Violent crime includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, while property crime, which saw a 7.5 percent decrease nationwide, includes burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft.

It should be stressed that this is just the preliminary report — the full report usually comes out around September. Also, six months is a short amount of time. As I’ve argued before, year-to-year (and in this case, 6 month) comparisons give a narrow and sometimes misleading interpretation of the rise and fall of crime.

The preliminary report also only included the violent crime numbers for cities with 100,000 people or more, and it’s possible that some cities with less than 100,000 people have higher crime rates than the cities on this list.

This report is particularly interesting for Chicago, since Chicago’s data has often been incomplete due to inconsistencies with the way the city records rape and aggravated assault statistics (read more here). This year, Chicago has fallen in line with both crimes.

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Though I’m going to list the most violent cities in each state, realize that these aren’t the most violent cities in America. The fact that some states have many large cities, while others have few, doesn’t make a list of the cities in each state with the highest violent crime totals very comparable. And in the case of the cities with the highest violent crime rates per 100,000 people, you should avoid ranking them against each other. In fact, the FBI specifically warns against it: “Comparisons lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents.”

Which cities have the most crime?

Of the 39 states that are on the list (a handful of states don’t have cities big enough to appear on the list, while others provided incomplete or inaccurate data to the FBI), New York city, Chicago and Los Angeles took the top three positions. This isn’t surprising, having the highest populaces in the country, you’d expect their violent crime totals to be high. It’s disappointing to see Chicago in the second spot with 10,834 violent crimes between January and June of 2014, since it has the third largest population. Los Angeles, which has just over a million more people than Chicago, had 8,675 violent crimes in the same period. New York, which has three times the population of Chicago, had 23,615 violent crimes.

While some big cities saw drops in crime from the first six months of 2013 to the first six months of 2014 that are similar to the nationwide drops (Atlanta, Georgia saw a 4.19 percent drop, for example), the percent change varies. Sioux Falls, South Dakota saw a 23.89 percent increase, going from 318 violent crimes in the first half of 2013 to 394 violent crimes in the first half of 2014. Newark, New Jersey saw a 18.66 percent decrease, going from 1666 violent crimes in the first half of 2013 to 1355 in the first half of 2014. Keep in mind, the smaller a population, the more volatile the percentage change.

To get a better view of violent crime, it’s best to look at the violent crime rate per 100,000 people, since it accounts for a cities population.

When looking at the violent crime rate, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles don’t even appear in the top 20 big cities with the highest rates. Using the FBI’s data, Chicago is 39th, New York city is 80th and Los Angeles is 111th.

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The top three cities are Memphis, Detroit and Oakland with rates of 851, 850 and 807, respectively. Springfield makes the list an impressive three times! (Springfield, MO; Springfield, MA; Springfield, IL — which one do the Simpsons live in?)

While these numbers are interesting, they should be taken with a grain of salt. Collecting data from the entire nation is a vast undertaking that’s bound to be rife with mistakes, so these numbers should serve more as a way for cities to track their own progress against their past, as opposed to a way to rank cities against each other.

See the full Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report, January-June 2014 here. Get a more detailed look at violent crime in Chicago here.

Mason Johnson is a Web Content Producer for CBS Chicago. You can find him on Twitter.

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