How Safe is Rome, Really?

Police sign in RomeMany visitors to Rome ask — worriedly — about crime in Italy’s capital city. They wonder if they can walk around safely at night. If they can carry a purse without it getting snatched. If they can relax on their vacation. (After all, doesn’t all the graffiti around alone mean the city is lawless?)

The first part of the answer: Like any city, you need to be aware in Rome. It’s an urban area. There are lots of people, not all of them stand-up characters. Don’t walk alone down unlit streets, be aware of your surroundings, don’t carry lots of cash on you, know the country’s emergency numbers.

But. Before you bemoan leaving the safety of San Francisco or Dublin or even Omaha, Nebraska for Rome, a little perspective on how worried you really should be… based on the statistics.

(A caveat here: I know that crime statistics aren’t perfect. I know that there are issues with crime reporting and with how to analyze the numbers. But I think some solid numbers are more helpful than yet more anecdotal evidence, which is already pretty plentiful on travel forums and elsewhere on the Web — and can be risky, since of course a traveler is much more likely to post about a mugging than to post about not having been mugged).

First, let’s take the most violent of violent crimes. According to the European Union’s statistics-gathering wing, from 2005 to 2007, Rome had 1.32 homicides per 100,000 people. That makes it a city of fewer murders per capita than some two-thirds of Europe’s other capital cities, from Dublin (2.4 homicides) to Prague (3.25), London (2.25) to Paris (1.49). Other cities with higher murder rates in Europe than Rome include Belfast, Amsterdam, Brussels, Edinburgh, Copenhagen, and Madrid.

And yet, remember: Even in those European cities, you’re still better off than you would be, statistically speaking, in most urban areas back in the States. Of the 70 biggest cities in the U.S., only one has a lower murder rate either than Rome’s or than the average for European capital cities in general. (I’m looking at you, Plano, Texas, with 0.8 homicides per 100,000). While Prague’s 3.25 murders sounds pretty bad for Europe, it’s still doing better than Seattle (4.1), Omaha (9.7), San Francisco (13.6), New York City (6), Anchorage (7.7), Chicago (15.7), or Boston (11) — to name just a few. And then there’s our nation’s capital, whose homicide rate, at 30.8 per 100,000, is almost thirty times higher than Rome’s.

Okay. So that’s that for murders. But what about other crimes?

Here, the statistics get a bit tougher to find. Petty crime — like pickpocketing — is particularly difficult. I think these robbery rates by European country, though, are pretty telling. (Robbery includes mugging and bag-snatching, but not pickpocketing). In 2007, Italy had 74,130 robberies for its roughly 60.4 million people, or 122 robberies per 100,000 people. That’s higher than, say, Ireland’s 2,173 out of 4.47 million, or 49 robberies per 100,000 — but still a lower crime rate than England and Wales, for example, with its 84,706 robberies translating to roughly 156 robberies per 100,000.*

Then again, that same year, only fourteen of the U.S.’ states and D.C. had a lower robbery rate than Italy. And once again, many of the U.S. rates are jaw-droppingly higher than Europe’s — including in Nevada (270), Indiana (124), Maryland (236), New York (161), and Texas (162). The biggest offender? Washington, D.C., whose 724 robberies per 100,000 people make it almost ten times more dangerous than Italy.

Sensing a theme here?

Of course, you have to keep one thing in mind: As a tourist, you are more of a target in Rome, at least for on-the-street property crimes like muggings and pickpocketing, than Italians are. And while you’ll probably be just fine, taking precautions, like using a money belt, might not only make you safer — but simply help you feel more comfortable.

So. In sum, do you have to be alert and aware of your surroundings in Rome? Yes. But do you also have to be when you’re traveling in Paris, or Madrid, or London, or even you’re back at home in Dublin or Boston or Omaha? Absolutely.

In some cases, even more so.

*Update, Dec. 5 2010: A sharp-eyed Tripadvisor poster pointed out to me when these statistics came up that the original data in this paragraph actually referred to total robberies, rather than robberies per 100,000 people. The data has been adjusted to reflect that, with the result that Italy’s number of robberies are actually closer to countries like Ireland (i.e., relatively lower) than I even had thought they were originally. Thanks, Peter from Ischia, for the clarification!

Stay tuned for a future post on Rome’s most common scams and crimes and how to stay safe in the city.

Want more tips and tricks to exploring Rome? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!

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