Father And Son Playing In Safe Neighborhood.

How To Determine Your Neighborhood’s Safety

8-Minute Read
Published on March 23, 2022

The safety of your family is a top priority. As a result, it’s likely to be an important factor when you’re deciding where to live. But how can you determine how safe a neighborhood is?

Today, there are more tools than ever to help you find a safe and welcoming home for your family. From reading up on local crime statistics to learning about the local community programs and services, we’ve rounded up everything you need to help you determine the neighborhood safety of your new home.

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How Safe Is My Neighborhood?

When you’re moving into a new home, you’ll probably want to know how safe your new neighborhood is. But remember that safety is subjective, and what one person considers safe may not be the definition for another person.

Some home buyers may feel safer if they live near a local police department, while another person may feel the opposite. Meanwhile, some people feel safer in rural areas and would be wary of highly populated areas, while others feel safer in less isolation.

The good news is that you get to decide what feels safe to you and what features are most important. You can use those characteristics when choosing your new home, versus relying on what might be considered biased opinions of an area.

Signs Of Dangerous And Safe Neighborhoods: Understanding Biases

As we mentioned, there isn’t necessarily a set-in-stone definition of what makes a neighborhood safe. The term “safe” can, of course, be subjective. However, there are some common factors that people look to that cause them to perceive a neighborhood to be either safe or dangerous.

Dangerous Neighborhoods

There are a handful of characteristics that, when people see them, would be more likely to categorize a neighborhood as dangerous or unsafe. Let’s talk about those in this section.

  • High Crime Rate And Police Presence: It’s no surprise that crime data is one of the most important factors people look to when determining the safety of a neighborhood. Additionally, people may see increased presence of local law enforcement to be a sign of danger. However, it’s important to understand the context. A higher documented crime rate doesn’t necessarily mean a higher presence of criminal activity in one area versus another. Police resources might vary by precinct and as a result, neighborhoods with more officers might have more crimes recorded compared to areas that might have similar crime but lack appropriate resources to accurately document it. Certain types of crime — including gun violence and other violent crime — may be a sign that you don’t want to live in a certain area.
  • Illegal Activity: We’ve talked about the impact that crime data can have on how people perceive the safety of a neighborhood. But it’s also worth mentioning that sometimes illegal activity is visible. It’s no surprise that it affects how safe people consider a neighborhood to be. When you’re looking for a new home, it’s certainly something to consider when deciding whether to move your family there.
  • Abandoned Properties And Homelessness: It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that people view areas with many abandoned properties and a high rate of homelessness to be less safe. And while documented crime is likely to be higher in these areas, it may also reflect a lack of city investment in community resources, including housing and social services, revealing the quality of life for residents.
  • Declining Businesses: Thriving businesses are a sign of a thriving neighborhood. And just the opposite, closing storefronts and struggling businesses could be a sign of decline for the neighborhood. Again, context is important because changes brought on by Covid-19 have affected just about every area of the country. Businesses that were thriving before the pandemic may now be struggling, while some who previously earned less have seen an increase in revenue.
  • Low-Quality Schools: The quality of a local school system is a huge factor that many families consider when choosing a new home, especially when they have children who will be attending them. Low-income areas often face problems that can be cyclical. Low incomes typically accompany low property values, and since property taxes fund much of our education system, schools in low-income areas simply have less funding. This, in turn, leads children in those schools to receive a lower-quality education, which can be a precursor to higher crime.

Safe Neighborhoods

Just as there are certain characteristics that we associate with dangerous neighborhoods, there are others that we associate with safe neighborhoods.

  • Low Crime Rate: As we mentioned, a high crime rate is associated with a more dangerous neighborhood, so it’s not surprising that a low crime rate is associated with a safer neighborhood. It’s important to mention once again that what a low crime rate is often the sign of, is a lower police presence – meaning crime may still be taking place, it’s just not documented as consistently as in neighborhoods that have a higher police presence. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t consider crime data at all when comparing neighborhoods, but to do so with a grain of salt.
  • Community Events: A neighborhood that often hosts community events can be a sign of not only a safe neighborhood, but also a friendly one. There’s something about neighbors coming together and choosing to spend their time together that makes us feel safe and at home there. And in turn, neighbors that look out for one another can help to reduce crime rates.
  • Stable And Growing Businesses: We’ve already talked about how declining businesses can be a sign of a declining community. At the same time, stable and growing businesses are often a sign of safety and a neighborhood being on the rise. It’s often a reflection of the financial security of a neighborhood, as well as their means and buying power.
  • Neighborhood Watch Program: Have you ever driven through a neighborhood where homes have neighborhood watch signs in their windows? It’s no surprise that people see these neighborhood watch programs as a sign of a safer neighborhood, since it means people are looking out for one another and won’t hesitate to call law enforcement if they see something suspicious.
  • Diversity: Many people see diverse cities as more welcoming and places that are thriving. The truth is that diverse communities are shown to lead to economic growth. Research has shown a positive relationship between diversity and human development.
  • Kids Playing Outside: People can read children playing outside to mean very different things. Some will see it as a sign of inattentive parents, while others will see it as a sign of a safe neighborhood, since parents trust that their children will be safe there.
  • High-Quality Schools: Just as low-quality schools can be a sign of a more dangerous neighborhood, high-quality schools, to many people, are a sign of a safe and thriving neighborhood, where children may be less likely to resort to crime.

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How To Check Neighborhood Safety

When you’re moving to a new neighborhood, you’ll probably want some information ahead of time about how safe a neighborhood is. The good news is that there are plenty of tools to help, and thanks to technology, the number grows each day.

Look Up Your Neighborhood Safety Rating

Websites like AreaVibes and NeighborhoodScout rate the safety of different neighborhoods based on a variety of factors, including their rate of violent and non-violent crimes, their school districts, the local real estate values and more.

They may also share a livability score for each neighborhood, which rates the best places to live based on a variety of different factors. Using these tools, you can look at a city as a whole or just one neighborhood within the city.

Use Crime Maps

Crime mapping tools can help you determine the crime rates in your area — both for violent crime and property crime — to give you an idea of how safe it is. You’ll learn what types of crimes are most likely, how likely you are to be the victim of a crime, and more.

You can often find the crime statistics for your neighborhood simply by typing your address or zip code into a tool like CrimeMapping or SpotCrime. Both show existing crime trends, as well as new crime alerts.

Visit The National Sex Offender Public Website

One of the most important factors that people look to when determining the safety of a neighborhood is the number of registered sex offenders in the area. Tools like the Family Watchdog and the National Sex Offender Website can help you see exactly where sex offenders are located, as well as what crimes they’ve been convicted of. This data is likely even more important for families with children considering a move into the area.

Check Out The Real Estate Market In The Area

The local real estate market can be an important indicator of the health of a neighborhood in more ways than one, including how safe it is. If property values are rising and there’s a competitive market for buyers, it’s a good sign that people want to live there.

But if many homes are going on the market, homes aren’t selling quickly, or property values are declining, it could be a bad sign for the neighborhood. The chances are that there’s a reason people are leaving.

Talk With Current Neighbors

If you get the chance, try talking with some of the community’s residents about how safe they feel in the neighborhood. Often the more friendly the neighbors are, the safer you’ll feel there. And people will often be honest about their thoughts. Today there are many tools you can use to communicate with people in the area without doing so face to face, such as by joining Facebook groups or the NextDoor message boards.

Look Around The Neighborhood To See Its Environment 

First impressions can be important, and that’s also the case when evaluating a neighborhood. Drive through a neighborhood you’re considering and simply look around. Does it look like the neighborhood has been well-maintained? Do people feel safe letting their children play outside or going for walks with their families? Look for community features like parks and community centers, which can be a sign that investments have been made into the neighborhood.

Where Is The Safest Place To Live?

As we mentioned, the concept of a safe neighborhood is somewhat subjective. However, there are some states whose data has shown time and time again that they are safe places to live. The data for this list includes many different factors, including violent crimes, law enforcement presence, poverty, unemployment, road quality and more to determine the safest states in America.

Here are the states with the highest safety scores:

  1. Minnesota
  2. Vermont
  3. Maine
  4. Utah
  5. Connecticut
  6. New Hampshire
  7. Iowa
  8. Hawaii
  9. Massachusetts
  10. Wyoming

The Bottom Line

When you’re moving to a new home, neighborhood safety is one of the most important factors to consider. You want your family to feel at ease in their new home without worrying about whether they’re safe. Luckily, there are plenty of tools to help you gauge the safety of a neighborhood.

For more information about choosing a safe place to live, visit our list of the 15 safest cities to live in the United States.

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Erin Gobler

Erin Gobler

Erin Gobler is a freelance personal finance expert and writer who has been publishing content online for nearly a decade. She specializes in financial topics like mortgages, investing, and credit cards. Erin's work has appeared in publications like Fox Business, NextAdvisor, Credit Karma, and more.