What is the Safest Community in America?

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Written By: J. Lasswell
January 24, 2024

A comprehensive study assessed 3,000 municipalities, assigning scores based on crime rates, injuries, and public safety capacity.

Those involved in the fight against gun violence and victimization at school or in the community often highlight the parts of our system that aren’t working; the overrepresentation of school shootings, the access to firearms, the lack of action against it. While this information is crucial to investigate, it’s only one part of the effort to find a solution.

So what (if anything) is actually working?

To evaluate this, we first have to identify which communities are experiencing success in their safety initiatives. U.S. News & World Report publishes yearly reports ranking communities based on different factors such as population health, equity, education, economy, housing, food & nutrition, environment, public safety, and infrastructure.

Since 2021, Nassau County, NY has ranked the highest in Public Safety.

In a comprehensive study assessing 3,000 municipalities, assigning scores based on crime rates, injuries, and public safety capacity. Notably, Nassau County achieved a “flawless” score in “per capita spending on health and emergency services,”--$1,148, nearly tripling the national median of $358. 

Nassau County’s favorable location, infrastructure and demographics are conducive to community safety. Eight out of every ten Nassau residents live in close proximity to an emergency facility, a stark contrast to the national average of three out of ten, and nearly double the amount of safety professionals in the population.

Another factor contributing to Nassau County’s success is their explicit and adequately communicated commitment to public safety by its elected officials. "Whether you're a mayor, county executive, governor or president, keeping residents safe is our No. 1 job," said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran in a Patch.com interview. "Public safety is the core of our mission as a local government."

This noticeably affluent community is also flanked by other counties that rank similarly in public safety, such as Rockland County, NY and Westchester County, NY. Because of all these protective factors, Nassau County boasts a lower violent crime rate of 143.6 incidents per 100,000 people, in contrast to the national average of 204.6 incidents per 100,000.

After evaluating a few of the county’s characteristics, the picture really becomes clear when you realize Nassau County is a minuscule 285 mi2, whereas most US counties are around 800 mi2 in size. Comparing that to cities more associated with crime, such as LA County (4,751 mi2) or St. Louis County (523 mi2), one can assume that smaller communities are more likely associated with safety. Smaller communities with similar rankings in public safety, such as Los Alamos County, New Mexico (109 mi2) seem to have more access to emergency services, better population health, and more resources. Los Alamos county also touts one of the highest per capita PhD rates, with a median household income of $110,204 per year in 2011—ranking second highest nationwide. 

Unfortunately, the truth behind the matter is hardly a revelation: smaller, more affluent communities have better access to elements of public safety, because they have the means and the proximity to effectively police, provide wellness and address safety concerns. 

Affluent communities such as these are certainly experiencing a lack of sympathy from the public, as income inequality, housing and healthcare disparities are all front-and-center on the national stage. Nassau County ranks mid-to-poor in educational equity, income equity and social equity, with a score in “Racial Disparity in Educational Attainment” that is nearly double the national average. There is apparently a sizable discrepancy between the affluent and the poor in Nassau County. However the public may weigh Nassau County’s success in public safety against their social inequities, the county’s people who aren’t considered “wealthy” do benefit from the safety infrastructure that this community provides. 

Counties like Nassau, Rockland and Los Alamos are outliers; small, homogenous, and incongruently wealthy. These counties are not representative of the average American experience. It is well-established that rural, low-income communities historically require more attention in addressing their needs related to community safety and critical response. These are the communities that need direct, immediate attention and funding. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said “If you would lift me up you must be on higher ground.” 

We can try to emulate the practices and innovations that these smaller, affluent communities have the ability to facilitate, but to effectively bring equitable safety to communities across the nation, it is more prudent to ask a different question: “Are there any counties with a large total area that have found success in their community safety?” Stay tuned for a continuation of this Drift Net blog series, where this question and more context surrounding community safety will be addressed!