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10 Most Dangerous Cities in California (2024 Update)

downtown stockton

Note: This article’s statistics come from third-party sources and do not represent the opinions of this website.

Violent crime is a concern for anyone moving into or traveling through an unfamiliar city, and violence is a general concern for all citizens. California has three of the most violent cities in the United States: Stockton, Oakland, and San Bernardino. Here’s a look at the 10 Californian cities with the highest violent crime rates. In this analysis, we screened for cities of more than 5,000 people, ranking them by taking the highest number of crimes per population to the lowest, shown as crimes per thousand people.

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The 10 Most Dangerous Cities in California: A Quick Look

1. Barstow

Barstow CA
Image Credit: Pixabay
Population 24,121
Violent Crimes in 2019 274
Violent crimes per 1,000 people in 2019 11.4

Located in San Bernardino County, approximately 2 hours northeast of Los Angeles, Barstow is in the 7th percentile for safety nationwide, meaning 93% of cities are safer. Very little of the city is considered safe based on crime mapping, with the western part slightly less severe regarding the number of crimes committed annually. Nonetheless, it is a well-visited tourist stop, with multiple museums and Barstow Station, a local restaurant built to resemble a train station.

2. Compton

Population 96,638
Violent Crimes in 2019 1,104
Violent crimes per 1,000 people in 2019 11.4

Compton is famous as the hometown of the fictitious DJ Jazzy Jeff from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire as well as the town that launched the careers of many rap artists, including Coolio and Ice Cube. Compton is, unfortunately, also one of the more violent cities in California, with the southwest part of the city only slightly less prone to violence than the rest.

3. Dos Palos

Population 5,594
Violent Crimes in 2019 64
Violent crimes per 1,000 people in 2019 11.4

Located in Merced County, approximately 2 hours south of Sacramento, Dos Palos is one of the low-population cities on our list, along with Needles and Big Bear. Crime maps indicate the southern part of the city and the central city areas are the worst, with much less crime toward the western parts of the city and outlying areas.

4. Oakland

Population 434,036
Violent Crimes in 2019 5,520
Violent crimes per 1,000 people in 2019 12.7

Oakland is one of the most populous cities in the San Francisco bay area. Before their removal to Las Vegas, the city was the home of the famed Oakland Raiders. The current Vice President, Kamala Harris, was born in Oakland. Despite the large population and fame, the city struggles with a high crime rate. Crime is generally associated with areas near the bay, with much less occurring in affluent or western outlying areas.

5. Susanville

Downtown Susanville
Downtown Susanville (Image Credit: ShakataGaNai, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)
Population 14,878
Violent Crimes in 2019 196
Violent crimes per 1,000 people in 2019 13.2

Susanville is located in Lassen County. It is a pioneer town, dating back to the settling of California. Its current primary employers include two state and one federal prison. The crime statistics of this city are skewed by this; many of the crimes committed are in the prisons and committed by prisoners.

6. San Bernardino

210 Highway, San Bernardino (Image Credit: christa connelly, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)
Population 216,715
Violent Crimes in 2019 2,858
Violent crimes per 1,000 people in 2019 13.2

San Bernardino is a particularly violent area east of San Francisco in Southern California, with a crime occurring approximately once every 26 minutes. It is the second-largest city on our list and is famous for its role on Route 66. Crime is concentrated in central and downtown areas, with more affluent and outlying areas less affected.

7. Emeryville

Population 12,380
Violent Crimes in 2019 166
Violent crimes per 1,000 people in 2019 13.4

Emeryville is in Alameda County, north of Oakland. It’s home to Pixar Animation Studios and situated near Berkeley University, and it shares many of the same violent neighborhoods as Oakland. Crime is associated with less affluent areas, which is most of the city proper. Suburbs to the west are much less affected.

8. Stockton

Population 313,604
Violent Crimes in 2019 4,380
Violent crimes per 1,000 people in 2019 14

Stockton is a Gold Rush city, built in the mid-1800s, and it is known for its #1 status in the US News most diverse city ranking. It is the largest city on our list. As with the other large cities we’ve analyzed, crime is centered in the metro areas. The chance of violent crime is 1 in 130 in the central metro areas and drops to 1 in 412 in the southern parts of the city.

9. Needles

Population 5,001
Violent Crimes in 2019 71
Violent crimes per 1,000 people in 2019 14.2

Needles is located in San Bernardino County along with three other of the most violent cities in California on our list. It is the last stop before entering the Mojave National Preserve, a scenic geography with unusual plants and rock formations. Unfortunately, it has more than its share of San Bernardino County’s already-high crime, with the most violent-prone parts of the city west of the Colorado River.

10. Big Bear

Population 5,311
Violent Crimes in 2019 76
Violent crimes per 1,000 people in 2019 14.3

Following the trend of increased violence in San Bernardino County is Big Bear, only slightly more populous than Needles. The city is famous for the nearby Big Bear Lake, mountains, and ski resorts.  The more highly populated areas of the city are the most violent.

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Violent Crime Rates In California and San Bernardino

Most of California has been experiencing a decrease in violent crime and property crime. One extreme example of the opposite is San Bernardino, which has seen an extreme increase of 15% in violent crime as of 2019 (the most recent statistics available from the Department of Justice), even though property crime has decreased. This is why three of the cities above are listed in San Bernardino county. Most of the rest of California shares in the national decline of violent crime.

How to Stay Safe in California

Staying safe in any city or community can be difficult for outsiders who do not know the area. When traveling in any new area, do basic research. Use a crime mapping service to determine where safe areas are, where you will arrive (airport, bus stop, etc.), and how to get there (hotel or friend’s house). It’s best to communicate your plans with friends and family and check in occasionally. Let them know which town you’re in and when you plan to call them to let them know you’re safe.

Stay aware. If an area seems unsafe, avoid it. If the behavior of an individual or group seems unsafe, leave the area. Bookmark the address of the police station and keep your phone charged.

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Except for San Bernardino County, most of California is experiencing a decrease in violent crime. Most crimes in violent cities are concentrated in populous areas, usually the central metro or downtown areas. Remember when traveling to these areas that just because a city has a high-crime rate does not necessarily mean the entire area is less safe all the time; crimes can be committed in low-violence areas as well. It is best to be thoughtful, aware, and prepared at all times to avoid mishaps and ensure a safe, enjoyable journey.

Featured Image Credit: downtown stockton (Image Credit: HaeB, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)


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