8 Most Dangerous Cities in Wisconsin (2023 Update)
Note: This article’s statistics come from third-party sources and do not represent the opinions of this website.
You’re probably more likely to associate Wisconsin with cows and the Green Bay Packers than crime. Sadly, the state hasn’t escaped this problem. While crime has decreased in recent years, current events have changed the situation dramatically. The days of keeping your door unlocked may be a relic of the past.
Nevertheless, according to US News and World Report, Wisconsin ranks in the top 10 of the safest places in the country. Perhaps part of the reason is its continental climate. Summers are often quite hot, with significant snow in the winters. It is the 30th largest state in the Union yet has a relatively low population density. As you may expect, the worst places for crime have more people.
(US News, Wisconsin Historical Society)
The 8 Most Dangerous Cities in Wisconsin: A Quick Look
More than three quarters of the 778 cities in Wisconsin have fewer than 10,000 people. The crime hot spots often are these larger towns. It’s essential to avoid painting an area with a broad stroke. Many of these places have safe and unsafe areas where you’re more likely to experience a crime. The FBI also reminds us that several factors play a role that goes beyond figures on a spreadsheet.
(US Census Bureau, FBI)
1. Milwaukee, WI
|Average Household Income:||$44,192|
|Violent crimes in 2019:||7,874|
Milwaukee is the state’s largest city. It also has the most crime. The town has a rich history evident in the number of historic buildings and neighborhoods. Manufacturing has been a significant economic driver with companies such as Miller Brewing and Harley-Davidson headquartered in the city. The area also has an excellent array of museums and other public attractions.
Violent crime remains high despite efforts to reform. Interestingly, property crime has declined by nearly 40% since 2006. Nevertheless, both violent and non-violent crime rates are well above the state average. Milwaukee also has a relatively high poverty rate and low median household income for a city of its size—both undoubtedly contributing factors.
(US Census Bureau, FBI)
2. Appleton, WI
|Average Household Income:||$60,129|
|Violent crimes in 2019:||206|
Appleton is located about 108 miles north of Milwaukee and is the state’s sixth largest city. The principal employers are the Affinity Health System and Thrivent Financial. The town has a vibrant transportation hub served by air, rail, and bus. It is also located near several major highways. Appleton has an active calendar of public events with several tourist attractions.
On a positive note, overall violent and non-violent crime has decreased in recent years. The rates are also below the state average. Nonetheless, assault and theft remain significant problems. Unfortunately, 2019 saw a slight uptick in some crime types, particularly assaults and rapes. That occurred in contrast to declining state rates.
(US Census Bureau, FB, City of Appleton)
3. Green Bay, WI
|Average Household Income:||$49,029|
|Violent crimes in 2019:||529|
Green Bay is located 119 miles directly north of Milwaukee at the water body that gives the city its name. Several major highways connect it with the rest of the state. There are also several universities and colleges in the area, along with its NFL team, the Green Bay Packers, with its iconic Lambeau Field. All these things make the area a tourist destination.
The poverty rate in the city is well above the state average of 11.3%, which may be a contributing factor to its high property crime. In recent years, violent crime has risen with the greatest increases in assaults and rapes. Both types are well above the state average. Overall, crime rates haven’t declined as much in the last several years. Instead, they appear to be leveling off and not dropping as quickly.
(US Census Bureau, FBI)
4. West Allis, WI
|Average Household Income:||$55,233|
|Violent crimes in 2019:||211|
West Allis is a suburb of Milwaukee, located about seven miles west of the city. It is a manufacturing town like many in the state. Siemens Power Corporation and Quad Graphics are major employers in the area. West Allis has two claims to fame: it is the site of the state’s state fairgrounds, and the Pettit National Ice Center is also in this town—one of only 30 indoor speed skating rinks in the world.
West Allis has seen a spike in property crime in the last several years. While it’s less than it has been in the past, it still surpasses the state average. Assaults have also increased, with 110 known offenses committed in 2019. Although the poverty rate is similar to Wisconsin, minorities have significantly higher percentages.
(US Census Bureau, FBI, Pettit National Ice Center)
5. Madison, WI
|Average Household Income:||$66,847|
|Violent crimes in 2019:||940|
Madison is Wisconsin’s second largest city and capital of the state. It’s located about 80 miles due west of Milwaukee. The town has a storied architectural history, with several buildings devised by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It is also home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Badgers college football team. The city has many cultural attractions and a host of parks and trails.
Madison has dozens of neighborhoods with varying crime patterns. While most rates are in line with the state averages, burglaries and thefts are higher in this college town. It’s worth noting that the poverty rate is significantly more, too. Like Green Bay, the statistics show crime leveling off instead of declining in recent years. It’s a shame, given that Madison has so much to offer for residents and visitors alike.
(US Census Bureau, FBI)
6. Racine, WI
|Average Household Income:||$43,748|
|Violent crimes in 2019:||291|
Racine is located about 30 miles south of Milwaukee on the shore of Lake Michigan. It is the state’s fifth largest city. It is a manufacturing town, producing a broad range of products, from motorcycles to malted milk balls. Architecture plays a significant role in Racine, with several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. There are also some examples from Frank Lloyd Wright.
Racine used to be one of the safest cities in the state. Unfortunately, recent figures tell a different story. Robberies, burglaries, and assaults are higher than the Wisconsin average. There were 990 known property crime offenses in 2019 alone. Arson has also been an issue in the past few years. Unfortunately, these rates make Racine one of the least safe cities in the state.
(US Census Bureau, FBI)
7. Janesville, WI
|Average Household Income:||$59,569|
|Violent crimes in 2019:||148|
Janesville is located about 76 miles southwest of Milwaukee. Its claim to fame is the home of the Parker Pen. The city is also home to several historic buildings that reflect its heritage. Several companies are based in this area, including Woodman’s Food Market. Healthcare and education are also major employers. The town has invested heavily in its green space, making it an eco-friendly place.
The good news is that violent crime has declined in the five years to levels below the state average. Sadly, that isn’t the case with property crime. The rates for theft have increased to above the state average. There were 1,577 known offenses in 2019. Theft was by far the largest type. Disconcertingly, there were also several arson crimes.
(US Census Bureau, FBI, Parker Pen)
8. Kenosha, WI
|Average Household Income:||$55,594|
|Violent crimes in 2019:||311|
Kenosha is Wisconsin’s fourth largest city. Like several others on our list, this town is also on Lake Michigan. It began as a manufacturing town but now serves as a bedroom community for Milwaukee and Chicago. They are both within a reasonable driving distance of 39 and 66 miles away, respectively. This proximity has influenced Kenosha and played a role in its crime rate.
Recent events have put Kenosha in the nation’s spotlight. Before these developments, overall crime rates were declining, with steep drops in robberies and property crime. However, both have increased, particularly violent types. Sadly, the town reached its annual average of homicides in March 2021. It follows trends that have plagued many cities across the nation.
(US Census Bureau, FBI, US News)
Why Crime Worsened in Wisconsin in Recent Years
One can only hope that as the pandemic subsides, the crime will too. It undoubtedly has taken a toll on everyone in many ways, and no one has remained unaffected by it. The deteriorating relationships between communities and law enforcement have also played a role, particularly when taken with the far-reaching effects of COVID-19. It has been the proverbial perfect storm.
Frustration and anxiety have boiled over into towns that haven’t seen significant crime in recent years. It has also worsened in larger cities that are all too familiar with its costs. The only difference is that the numbers have increased and appear to have created cascading effects. One could also blame inexperience for the problems in Wisconsin. The ravages of crime caught many unaware.
How to Stay Safe in Wisconsin
Staying safe in Wisconsin begins with awareness. Common sense precautions still prevail, such as staying in groups when walking and keeping your car doors locked when driving. It also applies to safety measures, such as closing garage doors and securing your home at night. Unfortunately, we can no longer assume any neighborhood is completely safe.
A common theme is a spike in property crime. One way to help prevent it is to install a security system or an outdoor camera. We also suggest putting smart plugs in your home to control your lights when you’re away. A device, such as Amazon’s Alexa, can make it appear as if your house is occupied to deter would-be thieves. Even simple things like a “Beware of Dog” sign can keep you and your family safe.
Unfortunately, crime is a fact of life. Many factors can influence your risk. However, knowledge is a powerful weapon. Learning where you need to be on your guard can go a long way towards keeping you safe. It also depends on being aware of your surroundings. Our advice is to err on the side of caution, always. Never assume anything. It’s a sobering yet realistic viewpoint to take in today’s world.
Featured Image Credit: Hans, Pixabay