2016 Safest Places in Iowa

by Susan Gulliford

You do not have to be rich to live in a safe city in Iowa. That is the major takeaway from the ValuePenguin team’s analysis of the FBI Crime Report for The Hawkeye State. Iowa recorded a median household income of $52,716, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Two of the safest cities had median household incomes below that level while two communities had median household incomes slightly above that figure. Only one city was affluent, defined as having a median household income 50% higher than the state’s median.

These 74 cities had crime scores that range from 257 to 4,229. The average crime score for a city in Iowa was 1,444. You can read the full report here.

5 Safest Places in Iowa

These cities have an average final crime score of 328, which is 77% lower than their typical peer in the state. These five are the safest places in Iowa.

1. Orange City

This small city of 6,211 in northwest Iowa takes the number one spot. Orange City achieved the third-lowest rate of violent crime and the second-lowest rate of property crime. In fact, its crime score was 82% lower than its peer in Iowa. The city is extremely proud of its Dutch heritage and wants to "welkom!" you to its huge tulip festival. Orange City had a median household income 18% higher than the median for Iowa and only 7.8% of its residents lived in poverty.

2. Independence

This city of approximately 5,900 is 39 miles north of Cedar Rapids. The 10 officers, one K9 officer and the three reserve officers of the police department work to keep crime low. Independence had the fifth-lowest rate of violent crime and the fourth-lowest rate of property crime. Its median household income was very close to the median for Iowa ($51,169 for Independence versus $52,716 for Iowa).

3. Eldridge

The Quad Cities is a four-county metro area of 400,000 people flanking the Mississippi river. This Quad Cities suburb, slightly over nine miles from Davenport, Ia., earns third place in this research. It had the lowest rate of property crime. The median household income was close to the median for Iowa ($56,154 for Eldridge versus $52,716 for Iowa); however, Eldridge had a much lower percentage of persons living in poverty (4.6% for Eldridge versus 12.2% for Iowa).

4. Shenandoah

The smallest city in the top five (population 5,051), Shenandoah is over 60 miles from Omaha, NE. It had the fourth-lowest rate of violent crime. This southwest Iowa city touts 18 parks that residents and their families can use for recreation. Shenandoah shows that a city does not necessarily have to be rich in order to be safe. The median household income was 22% lower than the median for Iowa, and Shenandoah had a higher percentage of people living in poverty than the state overall (19.7%).

5. Norwalk

This suburb of Des Moines, Ia., rounds out the top five. Norwalk achieved the lowest rate of violent crime of any community in this study. It is the only city from the mid-size category to make the top five. Norwalk is no stranger to national recognition. U.S. News & World Report ranked Norwalk Senior High School as the seventh best high school in Iowa. This city is affluent; the median household income was 53% higher than the median for Iowa, and Norwalk had an extremely low level of poverty (1.3% for Norwalk compared to 12.2% for Iowa).

Population Breakdown

Although we adjusted for population in our crime rankings, it is still difficult to compare a small town to a large city. To account for this fact, we separated the safest cities into three categories: towns with populations between 5,000 and 8,000, midsize cities with populations between 8,000 and 20,000, and larger cities with populations greater than 20,000. Here are our findings:

Full List of Places in Iowa

Below is the entire list of places that we included in our “Safest Places in Iowa” study. They are listed from the safest to the least safe, according to our analysis. The calculation for the crime scores can be found in the methodology section below. Take a look at the graph and see where your hometown ranks.

RankCityCrime Score
1Orange City 257
2Independence 297
3Eldridge 328
4Shenandoah 374
5Norwalk 383
6Waukee 481
7Decorah 488
8Johnston 508
9Vinton 547
10Pleasant Hill 585
11Carroll 585
12Algona 618
13Anamosa 716
14De Witt 804
15Ankeny 813
16Bettendorf 868
17Cherokee 870
18Osceola 881
19Marion 903
20Pella 908
21Winterset 914
22Atlantic 924
23North Liberty 940
24Estherville 972
25Charles City 982
26Hiawatha 989
27Iowa Falls 991
28Sheldon 1,038
29Manchester 1,048
30Ames 1,087
31Clive 1,104
32Cedar Falls 1,112
33Urbandale 1,129
34Creston 1,144
35Glenwood 1,165
36Spencer 1,177
37Le Mars 1,191
38Washington 1,203
39Webster City 1,213
40Mount Pleasant 1,350
41Fairfield 1,350
42Coralville 1,367
43Maquoketa 1,426
44Altoona 1,457
45Waverly 1,469
46Grinnell 1,475
47Red Oak 1,543
48West Des Moines 1,558
49Storm Lake 1,570
50Clarinda 1,583
51Boone 1,598
52Perry 1,608
53Clear Lake 1,615
54Fort Madison 1,622
55Mason City 1,684
56Dubuque 1,708
57Iowa City 1,748
58Oelwein 1,817
59Indianola 1,848
60Muscatine 1,934
61Centerville 1,988
62Newton 2,221
63Marshalltown 2,262
64Ottumwa 2,412
65Cedar Rapids 2,574
66Sioux City 2,579
67Burlington 2,601
68Keokuk 3,056
69Clinton 3,148
70Davenport 3,286
71Fort Dodge 3,388
72Des Moines 3,535
73Waterloo 3,738
74Council Bluffs 4,229

Year-over-year Change

People want to live in a consistently safe community. One place, Orange City, stands out from the rest of the cities in Iowa. It was the only city to make the top five in both 2015 and 2016.

There were significant changes from 2015 to 2016. Last year, mid-size cities took four out of the top five places. The top five for 2016 consists of four small cities and one mid-size place.

Due to population growth, Johnston moved to the large city category in 2016. It achieved the safest large city designation, and Johnston ranked eighth overall. Last year’s safest large city, Ankeny, moved to number two for 2016.

Methodology

To rank these places, we collected data from the 2014 FBI crime statistics by city, which provides the most recent crime data available. Not every town participates in this report and we also excluded towns with fewer than 5,000 residents because towns with small populations are more sensitive to crime score fluctuations for fewer crimes committed. The raw data report included property crimes (burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson), and violent crimes (murder/manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) from all law enforcement agencies that chose to partake in the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program.

We standardized the data to reflect violent and property crimes per 100,000, to account for population. Then, we aggregated a “crime score” by weighting violent crime at 80% and property crime at 20%. Though property crime is more prevalent, we figured that violent crime is more concerning to town residents. Then we adjusted the crime score for population size, giving more slack to larger cities. Finally, we ranked the cities based on their crime scores.

Here is an alphabetical table of all cities included with their ranks, making it easier to compare different cities. See where your city lies!

RankCityPopulationViolent Crime per 100KProperty Crime per 100KCrime Score
12Algona5,504254636618
44Altoona15,9241192,9891,457
30Ames62,5141201,7871,087
13Anamosa5,5441261,407716
15Ankeny53,0991091,284813
22Atlantic6,8982461,421924
16Bettendorf35,0451481,315868
51Boone12,6274991,9011,598
67Burlington25,7626293,3812,601
11Carroll9,988130941585
32Cedar Falls40,8831221,9231,112
65Cedar Rapids128,9012993,8422,574
61Centerville5,4292954,1441,988
25Charles City7,4952541,521982
17Cherokee5,1632911,181870
50Clarinda5,5053452,8521,583
53Clear Lake7,6732093,3231,615
69Clinton26,3756264,6183,148
31Clive16,8811132,1621,104
42Coralville20,3921032,7611,367
74Council Bluffs61,8645466,6404,229
34Creston7,9042661,8721,144
70Davenport102,7156194,0793,286
14De Witt5,2751901,403804
7Decorah8,079121,201488
72Des Moines208,2506004,2453,535
56Dubuque58,4212482,5901,708
3Eldridge6,126131343328
24Estherville6,0733621,120972
41Fairfield9,451953,0161,350
71Fort Dodge24,5246854,9793,388
54Fort Madison11,0415161,9471,622
35Glenwood5,2713981,5371,165
46Grinnell9,0092892,5751,475
26Hiawatha7,177702,285989
2Independence5,97034653297
59Indianola15,1835272,3121,848
57Iowa City72,5222942,4211,748
27Iowa Falls5,212962,283991
8Johnston20,43583847508
68Keokuk10,7678734,0873,056
37Le Mars9,8211732,2911,191
29Manchester5,0952551,8061,048
43Maquoketa6,0441653,1111,426
19Marion36,4811341,442903
63Marshalltown27,9135522,8802,262
55Mason City27,618943,4141,684
40Mount Pleasant8,6621272,9211,350
60Muscatine23,0576072,0041,934
62Newton15,1113643,8582,221
23North Liberty15,359345866940
5Norwalk9,79710919383
58Oelwein6,2246272,2811,817
1Orange City6,21116612257
18Osceola5,0411591,746881
64Ottumwa24,7922904,3282,412
20Pella10,3471641,604908
52Perry8,2045361,9621,608
10Pleasant Hill9,1491091,038585
47Red Oak5,5313252,8201,543
28Sheldon5,0682761,6971,038
4Shenandoah5,05120931374
66Sioux City82,3723513,8442,579
36Spencer11,1381442,3341,177
49Storm Lake10,8194712,0061,570
33Urbandale42,3361981,6461,129
9Vinton5,163771,162547
38Washington7,3975419461,203
73Waterloo68,3589553,9103,738
6Waukee17,95278819481
45Waverly10,1185441,4921,469
39Webster City7,8363191,8381,213
48West Des Moines62,3591862,5051,558
21Winterset5,0682171,598914

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