Downtown Cleveland Crime: Reality vs. perception

5:14 PM, Mar 1, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- Cleveland's image takes a lot of abuse.

A Forbes article named Cleveland the ninth "Most Dangerous City" in the nation.

It's a black mark which may not be accurate, especially when it comes to crime in downtown Cleveland.

Despite major efforts to make downtown safer, it's not uncommon to find people who avoid downtown because of safety concerns.

Carolyn Smilor has avoided the area for the past 20 years. She used to work downtown but an encounter on a bus pushed her over the edge. "A mentally ill person sat down and licked my face. That was it for me," says Smilor.

Forbes based it's "Most Dangerous" ranking on an FBI database that collects violent crime statistics from across the county.

The Forbes ranking is based on the number of crimes. It does not take other factors into consideration, such as per capital crime, age of the city, demographics or size. 

"It's cautioned all over our website saying, please don't use this as a ranking system," says Special Agent Vicki Anderson with the Cleveland FBI office.

The Forbes article also includes the following warning:

To construct the list, we ranked U.S. cities with a population over 200,000 according to their violent crime rate as reported by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports database. These preliminary 2011 statistics come with more caveats than the black-box warning on a dangerous chemotherapy agent, and the FBI says they shouldn't be used to compare one city with another. Differences in police reporting standards, urban borders and economics can make it tricky to compare densely populated Detroit, say, with sprawling Houston. We used cities instead of larger metropolitan statistical areas, which gave the disadvantage to older cities with tighter boundaries."

Under The Freedom of Information Act WKYC obtained a list of all crimes reported in to the Cleveland Police Department in 2012.  We mapped out the crimes and found a fraction of violent crimes occurred downtown.  Violent crimes include rape, murder, robbery and felonious assault.

  • Out of 92 homicides in Cleveland 1 was downtown.
  • Out of 535 rapes in Cleveland 16 were downtown.
  • Out of 3,129 robberies in Cleveland 130 were downtown.
  • Out of 2,180 felonious assaults in Cleveland 91 were downtown.

Downtown Area

Cleveland Police Districts
Download a printable version of this map

Downtown is home to Cleveland's most well known attractions and landmarks: Playhouse Square, Cleveland Horseshoe Casino, East 4th Street, The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Quicken Loans Arena, Progressive Field, FirstEnergy Stadium, The House of Blues and The Warehouse District.

The list goes on, including clubs and restaurants, some of which are owned by internationally known chefs.

Dan Rogan is a bartender at Lola on East 4th Street.

 "This place used to be a bunch of wig shops, sleazy bars and crack heads to be honest with you," says Rogan.

Over 15 years, he's seen downtown transform. "Probably right now it's the safest it's ever been. It's got lots of lights, lots of foot traffic, lots of cops."

Cleveland has crime but efforts are showing results when it comes making downtown safer for tourists and residents.

In 2012, the Cleveland Police Department nearly doubled the size of the downtown police unit to 49 officers. Their job is to focus solely on downtown.

"Come on downtown. It's safe," says Sergeant George Peters, a lifelong Clevelander.

Sgt. Peters says the department is cracking down on aggressive panhandling and officers are trained in how to deal with mental health issues and resources for the homeless.

However, crimes of opportunity are a continuous problem. Sgt. Peters says purses, computes and other valuables left in cars result in break-ins. The city launched the campaign "Put Your Junk in Your Trunk" to combat the problem.

The Downtown Cleveland Alliance is also working to make downtown safer.

The DCA has more than 60 Clean & Safe Ambassadors. Dressed in blue jackets, the ambassadors are on duty 20 hours a day, 365 days a year. The ambassadors carry radios and are in direct contact with law enforcement.

The DCA also hires an off-duty police officer to patrol E. 4th Street and Euclid Avenue during evening hours.

Downtown should not be painted as crime-free. Visitors can be targeted or caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

As in any city, taking precautions such as staying in well-lit and well-traveled areas brings down the chances of becoming a victim.

To test the safety of the streets, this reporter spent several evenings standing downtown alone. I was recorded by a photographer who was either in a building across the street or down the street concealed in a car. We wanted a realistic account of what would happen to a woman alone downtown.

Over the course of several evenings, I was approached by a number of homeless. I said no to every request for money. The people I talked to were never intimidating or aggressive. 

Cleveland does have crime. The city is divided into 5 districts.  We broke down violent crimes in each district.

City of Cleveland Police Districts

Cleveland Police Districts
Download a printable version of this map
  • District - 1
  • Homicides - 6
  • Rapes - 77
  • Robbery - 397
  • Felonious Assault - 241


  • District -2 
  • Homicides - 13
  • Rapes -132
  • Robbery -657
  • Felonious Assault - 371


  • District -3
  • Homicides -14
  • Rapes - 121
  • Robbery - 663
  • Felonious Assault -490


  • District - 4 
  • Homicides - 30
  • Rapes -117
  • Robbery -866
  • Felonious Assault - 615


  • District - 5
  • Homicides - 29
  • Rapes - 88
  • Robbery -546
  • Felonious Assault - 463

Cleveland has the makings to be a destination downtown but image remains a serious issue.

Looking at the number of crimes that occur in the area can be one tool to help people decide for themselves if it's worth heading to the heart of the city.


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