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8 Most Dangerous Cities in Iowa (2024 Update)

University of Iowa

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

Iowa is usually pretty far down that list when you think of dangerous states. It is safe compared to other states, and its crime rates are relatively low. Surprisingly, this rural state known for corn and pigs has its own hotspots for property and violent crime. Let’s look at the most dangerous cities across the Hawkeye State.

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The 8 Most Dangerous Cities in Iowa: A Quick Look

1. Keokuk

Keokuk iowa
Keokuk iowa (Image Credit: Billwhittaker, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 3.0 Unported)
Population: 10,324
Murder rate: 9.6 per 100k people (#2 in Iowa)
Violent crime rate: 867.4 per 100k people (#1 in Iowa)
Poverty rate: 2,262 (21.5%)
Average household income: $39,779

Named after the famed Native American chief and known as the hometown of the eccentric genius Howard Hughes, Keokuk has fallen from grace in recent years. It is known for corn, and it lies at the farthest southeastern edge of Iowa’s border.

Unfortunately for anyone seeking a safe and peaceful existence, Keokuk has the highest violent crime rate in the state—you have a 1-in-115 chance of being attacked there. Residents consider the southeastern neighborhoods the worst part of town, whereas the northern parts are far safer.

Property crime is #2 in the state, too, and you have a 1-in-15 chance of being a victim of theft in Keokuk. If you happen to pass through the area, keep your valuables close and your car doors locked.

2. Council Bluffs

Council Bluffs Park
Council Bluffs Park (Image Credit: Smallbones, Wikimedia Commons CCO 1.0 Universal)
Population: 62,355
Murder rate: 9.6 per 100k people (#3 in Iowa)
Violent crime rate: 787 per 100k people (#2 in Iowa)
Poverty rate: 7,740 (12.8%)
Average household income: $53,524

Right across the Missouri River from Omaha, Nebraska, the city of Council Bluffs is often forgotten. This suburb has rich historical significance; President Lincoln chose Council Bluffs as the starting point for the vast transcontinental railroad. Today, it’s mainly known as a poorer suburb of Omaha.

These days, Council Bluff has Iowa’s highest violent crime rate and third-highest murder rate; you have a 1-in-126 chance of becoming a victim of violent crime. Property crime is the highest in Iowa, too, with a 1-in-12 chance of being a victim of a theft or burglary.

Most crimes happen in the central areas of the city. If you stick to the safer areas in the southeast, you should be fine. In the days of yore, you could probably get away with leaving your door unlocked at night, but not anymore.

3. Ottumwa

Ottumwa Station
Ottumwa Station (Image Credit: Detroit.bus, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 2.5 Generic)
Population: 25,545
Murder rate: 8.2 per 100k people
Violent crime rate: 547.2 per 100k people
Poverty rate: 3,960 (16.6%)
Average household income: $41,722

Not far from Keokuk lies Ottumwa, the self-proclaimed Video Game Capital of the World and home of Twin Galaxies, which is the supplier of video game records to the Guinness World Records. Ottumwa is also the home of the American Gothic farmhouse from the universally famous 1930 painting.

Sadly, Ottumwa’s rich culture belies its high crime rate. Property crime is rampant, with a 1-in-24 chance of becoming a victim. Although the violent crime rate is relatively low, you shouldn’t let your guard down when visiting or passing through.

People who live in Ottumwa consider the western areas of town the most crime-ridden, while the northeast neighborhoods are seen as much safer. Keep this in mind if you’re ever in the area!

4. Des Moines

Des Moines East Village
Des Moines East Village (Image Credit: Iowahwyman, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 3.0 Unported)
Population: 215,636
Murder rate: 6.4 per 100k people
Violent crime rate: 712 per 100k people (#3 in Iowa)
Poverty rate: 33,900 (16.1%)
Average household income: $53,525

It was inevitable that Iowa’s largest city would land on this list; larger cities usually go hand in hand with high crime rates. Known as the home of insurance companies and the gigantic Iowa State Fair, Des Moines is the most prominent city on this list.

Des Moines has the third-highest property and violent crime rates in the state. In particular, burglary is the highest in the state, so keep your doors locked and valuables secured. If you’re visiting for the State Fair or walking around downtown, it’s safe enough not to need special precautions.

While downtown is pretty safe during the day, you’re best to avoid walking around alone at night, and the eastern parts of town can get pretty sketchy, too.

5. Davenport

Dillon Memorial Davenport, Iowa
Dillon Memorial Davenport, Iowa (Image Credit: Farragutful, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 3.0 Unported)
Population: 100,564
Murder rate: 2 per 100k people
Violent crime rate: 594.8 per 100k people
Poverty rate: 16,500 (16.6%)
Average household income: $51,029

Davenport is the third-largest city in Iowa and the largest on the Mississippi River, and it’s brave enough to have no permanent floodwall or levees. Ostensibly, that’s because the city has over 50 parks that benefit from open access to the water. Davenport has strong German cultural influences and is also notable as the largest of the Quad Cities.

As we learned from Des Moines, large populations can lead to more crime. Specifically, aggravated assaults and rapes have been a big problem recently. Property crimes like theft are an issue, too, with a 1-in-24 chance of becoming a property crime victim.

Residents of Davenport consider the south side of town to be the worst for crime, and the west part of town is thought to be the safest area. As with any area, this is a generalization; keep your guard up no matter where you go in unfamiliar places.

6. Mason City

MasonCityIA FederalAve Plaza
MasonCityIA FederalAve Plaza (Image Credit: Chris, Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0 Generic)
Population: 27,200
Murder rate: 0 per 100k people
Violent crime rate: 652.4 per 100k people
Poverty rate: 3,150 (12.8%)
Average household income: $50,397

Mason City has produced several famous musicians in its time, including Bil Baird, who created the puppets from The Sound of Music. Also of note is the city’s large collection of Prairie School architecture, making it of great interest to historians.

These days, it doesn’t seem like Mason City has much going for it. The population has declined by a couple of thousand people in the past few years, and crime has steadily risen. Although thankfully devoid of murders, assaults, and larceny are startlingly common in Mason City. This town ranks #6 for violent crimes in all of Iowa. As far as the safest areas of town go, you’ll want to stick to the south side. Avoid the central part of town, where your chance of becoming a crime victim triples.

7. Sioux City

091607-SiouxCity-Historic4th (Image Credit: Bobak Ha’Eri, Wikimedia Commons CC 3.0 Unported)
Population: 82,531
Murder rate: 2.4 per 100k people
Violent crime rate: 444.5 per 100k people
Poverty rate: 11,400 (14.2%)
Average household income: $55,433

Known these days for its museum and art center, Sioux City was once called Little Chicago during Prohibition because Al Capone had nearly 30 safehouses in the city. The dense suburban town may have shed its gangster past. but remains known for other types of crime.

Violent crime isn’t as high as other entries on this list, but Sioux City has the third most burglaries in the state and has the fourth-highest property crime rate. Other types of crime, like car theft and arson, are more common here than in other cities, too.

If you ever visit for the art, stay away from the northwest areas, where there’s a 1-in-9 chance you’ll be robbed. By contrast, that chance is only 1-in-35 on the northwest side of town.

8. Indianola

Indianola Carnegie Library Iowa 2019-2182
Indianola Carnegie Library Iowa 2019-2182 (Image Credit: Paul R. Burley, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 4.0 International)
Population: 15,802
Murder rate: 0 per 100k people
Violent crime rate: 708.3 per 100k people
Poverty rate: 4,825 (30.6%)
Average household income: $60,854

Indianola is the beginning of the Blues Trail and home of the late and great B.B. King, who has his own museum in town. Other than blues, Indianola is famous for its National Balloon Open, where over 100 hot air balloons take flight every year. If you like hot air balloons, they also have the National Balloon Museum!

The bad news is that Indianola has the second-highest number of rapes in the state and ranks in the top five for violent crime. If it’s any consolation, property crime isn’t that big of a deal here, and your valuables should be safe. When visiting Indianola, try to avoid the southern parts of town where you have a 1-in-17 chance of being the victim of a crime. Generally, the northwest part of the city is considered the safest; if you visit for the balloons or blues, try to look for a hotel there.

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Has Crime in Iowa Gone Up Or Down In Recent Years?

According to the FBI, violent crime in Iowa rose by 9.5% from 2019 to 2020. Murders rose by a record 60%! By contrast, property crimes in Iowa fell for the 18th consecutive year.

In 2020, Iowa agencies reported an estimated 303 violent crimes per 100,000 people—this is the highest rate since 2010. The increase in violent crimes is disappointing but not unexpected because murder rates in the U.S. spiked by 30% from 2019 to 2020. There’s little concrete data on why, but societal turmoil exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and other factors are thought to be involved.

man with weapon
Image Credit: un-perfekt, Pixabay

How To Stay Safe in Iowa

In the grand scheme of things, Iowa is a pretty safe state. If you avoid the hotspots and take some of the precautions we’re about to recommend, you should be perfectly fine.

Tips on How To Stay Safe In Iowa:
  • If possible, don’t travel alone. If you must travel alone, avoid poorly lit areas at night.
  • Always keep your car and hotel doors locked, whether you’re present or not.
  • When returning to your car in an unfamiliar area, check the back seat before getting in.
  • If traveling to any of Iowa’s hotspots like the State Fair or National Balloon Open, stick to your groups and avoid becoming separated. Consider leaving your valuables in a locked car or hotel safe because pickpockets love events like those.
  • When traveling, never tell anyone where you’re staying or that you’re alone.

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Iowa is home to some of the country’s great art and culture, but like anywhere, it suffers from crime in certain areas. If you do your research on where you’re going and observe basic safety precautions, you should be able to have a great time traveling.

Featured Image Credit: 12019, Pixabay


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