Staying Safe: Try That in a Small Town

Jason Aldean performs onstage in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, on July 22, 2023. (Photo by Joshua Applegate/Getty Images)

I am not really from a small town: The Lubbock metropolitan area—a phrase that makes me smile a little to write—is home to 328,283 people, right between Boulder, Colorado, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, in the population rankings. It feels smaller because it is isolated: the nearest big cities being Dallas and Fort Worth, 330 miles to the east, or Albuquerque, about the same distance to the west. Turn the axis a little bit, and Lubbock sits about halfway between Denver and Houston, neither of which is very close. It is a small city rather than a small town, and it has something in common with a lot of small cities and small towns: a crime rate that is three times that of New York City, almost twice that of Los Angeles, more than twice that of Boston or Laredo, about 80 percent higher than Las Vegas, higher than Dallas, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta, or Seattle. 

Life in a big city, particularly a transit-oriented northeastern city such as New York, is public in a way that life in a small city—where everybody gets around in cars and the sidewalks are mostly empty—is not. On the street level, New York (or parts of New York) feels a lot more dangerous than, say, Odessa—the most dangerous city in Texas when it comes to violent crime and overall crime. Yet, in reality, that small Texas city has a crime rate per 100,000 that is similar to what you would find in the second tier of the most dangerous American cities (Detroit, Tulsa, Kansas City, Missouri). Though it is still short of the top tier of high-crime cities that includes St. Louis, Memphis, and Albuquerque, each of which has an overall crime rate more than four times that of New York City.

Jason Aldean, who has made a stink with his “Try That in a Small Town,” should think about spending some time in a small town. He might learn something. (If you missed it, the ruckus began with complaints that Aldean shot a video for the song near where a lynching had happened many years ago, though it isn’t clear that that horrible crime had anything to do with the site selection; the criticism later moved on to the generally vigilante-ish tone of the song.) Like so many of the self-appointed spokesmen for small towns and simple country folk, Aldean himself is nothing of the sort: He is, in fact, a former private-school kid from Macon, Georgia., metro population 420,693, adjacent to the greater Atlanta metropolis, population about 6.3 million. Macon, you may not be surprised at this point to learn, has a considerably higher crime rate than New York, Los Angeles, or Newark, New Jersey.

When it comes to actual small towns and rural areas, the data can be a little wonky—one ugly Saturday night in Muleshoe, Texas, can throw the numbers off for a whole year. But the data we do have do not support the hypothesis that life is safer in small towns: The aforementioned Muleshoe has had a higher-than-average crime rate in recent years. Homicides jumped 25 percent in rural areas in 2020. “It was like people lost their ever-lovin’ minds,” one small-town prosecutor told the Wall Street Journal

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