Smaller isn't Always Safer: The Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois Small Cities Ranked Safest

Wallethub issued a report last month ranking the best small cities in the U.S.  The report compared more than 1300 American cities with populations ranging from 25,000-100,000.

Among the metrics used in comparison was an overall safety score calculated by factoring crime rates and vehicle accident deaths.  For a look at the report and methodology used, see:

The highest safety score went to Ashburn, Washington, while the city rated least safe was Tupelo, Mississippi.

A lot of us in the Midwest seem quick to show pride in the safety of our communities, but just how safe is your town?  Here's a look at the safest small cities in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois.


The Safest Small Cities in Iowa

#3) Bettendorf

Image: Google

Population: 36,543   Violent Crime Rate: 1.26    Property Crime Rate: 12.97

Scott County five-year average annual traffic fatality rate per 100,000 residents: 7.98

Motto: "We have nothing to do with Tim Conway."

In third place on the Iowa small city safety list, Bettendorf is so into keeping things sleepy that it's actually named for it.  Originally named "Lilienthal" for a tavern and dance hall, this Quad City ditched that moniker and updated to Bettendorf around the beginning of the 20th century.  Bettendorf more or less translates from German to "bed village,"  an especially appropriate name for a town next door to Davenport.  Is there a Recliner, Iowa nearby?

#2) Ankeny

Population: 67,887   Violent Crime Rate: 1.93    Property Crime Rate: 10.84

Polk County five-year average annual traffic fatality rate per 100,000 residents: 6.28

Motto: "Swollen."

This Polk County city has been growing in a hurry.  Ankeny's population in 2000 was 27,117.  It ballooned to 45,582 in 2010, and 67,887 in 2020.  In other words, Ankeny, Iowa's second-safest small city is more than two-and-a-half times the size it was 21 years ago.  Should this growth rate continue, Ankeny would be about double the size of Des Moines in 2060.  Billionaire Dennis Albaugh's collection of Chevrolet convertibles, considered among the world's finest, is stored in Ankeny, so one hopes the sound of a vintage V-8 would occasionally be heard over the constant sounds of construction.

#1) Urbandale

Image: Google

Population: 44,379    Violent Crime Rate: .63    Property Crime Rate: 10.25

Polk County five-year average annual traffic fatality rate per 100,000 residents: 6.28

Motto: "Play responsibly."

Home of the multi-state lottery, the suburban Des Moines city of Urbandale ranks as the safest small city in Iowa.  Quiet seems to be the way they like things in Urbandale.  A visit to lands on a page featuring a large photo of nothing, really; a sculpture in front of a cornfield with some trees in the distance, no dales, and definitely nothing urban.  I've been unable to discover a regularly-used demonym for the people of Urbandale, but "Urbanmeyers" feels right.


Wisconsin's Safest Small Cities

#3) Steven's Point

Image: Google

Population: 25,880    Violent Crime Rate: 2.16   Property Crime Rate: 12.93

Portage County five-year average annual traffic fatality rate per 100,000 residents: 3.11

Motto:  "The answer to the question; 'What Wisconsin city hosts "The World's Largest Trivia Contest" annually?'"

Home to about 9500 University of Wisconsin -- Stevens Point students, this is one of those places that seems to make a lot of "best places" lists.  The third-safest Wisconsin small city offers more recreational opportunities than you would expect from a town of its size.  Regular events there include The Annual Backwaters Paddle Canoe Fest, and The World's Largest Trivia Contest.  Although Stevens Point was incorporated in 1858, the area has pretty well always been named for its geography.  It was called Pasīpahkīhnen in the Menominee language which basically means "It juts out as land."  It stands out as a pretty safe place, too.

#2) New Berlin

Image: Google

Population: 39,691     Violent Crime Rate: .50    Property Crime Rate: 11.39

Waukesha County five-year average annual traffic fatality rate per 100,000 residents: 5.49

Motto:  "Ich bin ein New Berliner."

New Berlin is named for New Berlin, New York, which takes its name from Berlin, Germany.  So the second-safest small city in Wisconsin could easily have been New, New Berlin.  In 2017 Money magazine rated this Milwaukee area city the 11th best place to live in America, so being really highly ranked but not quite at the top isn't new (or new, new) territory for New Berlin.

#1) Menomonee Falls

Image: Google

Population: 38,014     Violent Crime Rate: .74    Property Crime Rate: 8.71

Waukesha County five-year average annual traffic fatality rate per 100,000 residents: 5.49

Motto:  "No 'i', damn it!"

Another Milwaukee area town tops the list of safest small cities in Wisconsin. The name alone relays a sense of peacefulness.  Kohl's is based in Menomonee Falls.  Mr. Baseball himself, Bob Uecker calls this city which calls itself a village home, too.


The Safest Small Cities in Illinois

#3) Buffalo Grove

Image: Google

Population: 40,494     Violent Crime Rate: .27    Property Crime Rate: 7.24

Lake County five-year average annual traffic fatality rate per 100,000 residents: 5.71

Motto: "Our farmer's market > your farmer's market."

The third-safest small city in Illinois wasn't even incorporated until 1958.  Its latter-20th century growth allowed for more modern planning than that of many Midwestern towns, hence recreational options abound -- there's even an indoor golf dome.  This suburban village is 32 miles from Chicago's Union Station via Metra.  Although it's not an officially-recognized demonym, there's a fun vibe to the term "Buffalo Grover."

#2) Palatine

Image: Google

Population: 67,908   Violent Crime Rate: .62    Property Crime Rate: 4.88

Cook County five-year average annual traffic fatality rate per 100,000 residents: 4.95

Motto: "You're leaving Cook County and so are we."

Another suburban Chicago small city is Illinois' second-safest.  Palatine became so much a bedroom community that the former Cook County Fairgrounds there became Fairgrounds Park, a subdivision, in the mid 20th century.  Palatine is very much in the people business.  The three largest employers in the township are; The Community Consolidated School District, The Township High School District 211, and The US Postal Service.  It's a bit difficult to imagine this town was home during his high school years to rock star Ted Nugent.

#1) Bartlett 

Image: Google

Population: 40,647   Violent Crime Rate: .57     Property Crime Rate: 4.75

DuPage County five-year average annual traffic fatality rate per 100,000 residents: 3.75

Motto: "Construction ahead.  Expect delays."

Yet another suburban Chicago village tops the list in Illinois.  The safest small city in the state was recently ranked as the 9th safest city in all of America.  They take their Little League baseball pretty seriously there. Bartlett has routinely boasted some of the largest Little League divisions in the US.  Here's a sure sign that your town is pretty cool, Bartlett hosts a "pumpkin smash" after Halloween, where residents are encouraged to bring their old jack-o-lanterns to be smashed for recycling.

Cheers to the leaders past and present in all of these communities for creating and maintaining peaceful, safe places to live.  Let's hope the success seen in these cities inspires others to become more safe.


RELATED: The Most Dangerous Small Cities in IA, WI, & IL

RELATED: The VERY WORST Small Cities in IA, WI, & IL



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