Wheaton students currently live in the 32nd safest city in America, according to NeighborhoodScout’s 2017 list of the 100 safest cities.
NeighborhoodScout collects data from the crimes reported by the FBI and makes calculations from the number of violent and property crimes per 1,000 residents. Using this method, Wheaton shows itself to be safer than 80 percent of U.S. cities with a total number of 413 crimes and an annual average of 7.69 crimes per 1000 residents.
In contrast to Wheaton’s impressive safety, violent crime rates escalated enough in Chicago this year to deserve a presidential threat to send in the “feds” via tweet. According to NeighborhoodScout, Chicago had an annual number of 106,710 crimes in total and an annual average of 39.22 crimes per 1000 residents, making it safer than only 11 percent of U.S. cities. Even so, 19 Chicago suburbs made the top 100 safest cities list, including Lake in the Hills and Bartlett in the top 10. To put this in perspective, a Wheaton student has a 1 in 2335 chance of being a victim of violent crime, while a Chicago resident has a 1 in 110 chance. The disparity between safety in the suburbs and the city is staggering.
But according to Professor of Politics & International Relations and Director of the Center for Urban Engagement Dr. Noah Toly, “Chicago is too big a city to be regarded as a singular place, and violent crime … varies significantly across its neighborhoods.” Toly explained that part of the disparity in safety was simply the “larger populations, more dense settlement and greater institutional complexity” of Chicago in comparison to a suburb.
That said, Toly added that there has been a spike in violence as “Chicago neighborhoods are experiencing rapid increases from rates that were near historic lows.” The reasons behind this increase are complex, but Toly did note that “educational outcomes, economic opportunity, financial inclusion and trust in city services and institutions are very low — mostly because of historic, racialized, structural inequities,” which generally leads to an increase in crime. Another reason, explained Toly, is that “the availability of guns is very high, and it seems we have begun to favor preemptive violence as a solution to many of our problems.”
Regardless, Wheaton Chief of police James Volpe was unsurprised by the suburb’s safety ranking, saying, “We consistently are rated as one of the safest cities to raise a family.” In fact, Wheaton has a long-held reputation as one of the top 100 safest cities. It was ranked 51 in 2014, 31 in 2015, and 21 last year. In addition, Wheaton College itself was ranked as the number 1 safest college campus by Business Insider in 2016. Volpe felt that Wheaton’s safety was important as the “community attracts a diverse, well-educated person who is seeking a peaceful community to live.”
But the contrast between the feelings of safety in Chicago and Wheaton are extreme. Freshman Leah Schoonmaker, who grew up in Chicago neighborhood Hyde Park, explained that “Wheaton is the safest place I’ve ever lived … at home I’m not allowed to stay out past dark … In Wheaton I can pretty much go wherever at any time of night and have minimal worries about my safety.”