Tropical Comparison: Puerto Rico vs Hawaii vs Florida, Part 1
My Preferred Locations
My dream retirement location has two simple requirements: A tropical climate (or something darn close to it), and it must be part of the U.S., whether a state or territory. With these in mind, I have whittled my choices down to Hawaii, South Florida, and Puerto Rico. I also considered the U.S. Virgin Islands, but decided to pass on that option. I’ll still include two Virgin Island cities below for sake of comparison.
The 12 areas I compared:
- Florida: Jupiter, Key West, Miami
- Hawaii: Metropolitan areas, non-metropolitan areas, statewide totals
- Puerto Rico: San Juan metro, Northwest (Isabela, Rincon, etc), Southwest (San German), and overall totals
- U.S. Virgin Islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas
The stats used are the 2012 crime stats published by the FBI (Table 6, for example). There were no statistics available for individual cities in Hawaii, so the only breakdown available were statewide totals, metropolitan areas, and non-metropolitan areas. One would assume that “metro” would probably be mostly influenced by Honolulu. This still gives us a pretty good idea of crime in Hawaii. For Puerto Rico, I had several smaller metropolitan areas clumped together, but individual cities were also not available. For Florida and the Virgin Islands, I found data for specific cities.
As I have obsessively read everything I can get my hands on regarding crime in my dream locations, I’ve started to wonder if Puerto Rico has gotten a bad rap in this department, and maybe Hawaii has gotten a pass – as my stats below will reveal.
Consider the opening sentence of an article by Fox News Latino, published in early 2014: “Along with major economic problems, Puerto Rico also suffers from an astronomic violent crime rate…” The article discusses the murder rate in Puerto Rico, which is not the violent crime rate. As the article below will show, Puerto Rico actually has a lower violent crime rate than about half of the 50 states.
The overwhelming stat that jumps off the page when “crime” and “Puerto Rico” are mentioned in the same paragraph is that of the high murder rate on the island. Indeed, in 2011 and 2012, Puerto Rico experienced by far a higher murder rate than anything seen in any of the 50 states. The 978 murders in 2012 put the number of murders per 100,000 people in Puerto Rico in 2012 at 26.7, far worse than any state in the union. But does this single crime stat tell the full story?
Rankings by Crime Category
The FBI includes crime stats for several categories: violent crime, murder, rape, robbery, assault, property crime, burglary, larceny, and auto theft.
Below I have compared all of these categories for my 12 locations above. The stats below are ranked from best to worst. Each location includes the rate per 100,000 people, followed by the raw stat for that location in parentheses. For example, Miami has a murder rate of 16.7 people per 100,000 residents, with a total of 69 murders in 2012.
So let’s break down each of the 9 crime categories for my 12 dream locations, and see which area comes out on top.
This is the stat that receives virtually all of the press. Not surprisingly, the quiet Jupiter, Florida community, along with the three Hawaii areas top this list, with San Juan and the two cities in the Virgin Islands at the bottom. This, I believe, is a large part of the bad reputation heaped onto Puerto Rico as a whole.
- Jupiter FL: 0.0 (0)
- Hawaii non-metro: 1.6 (4)
- Hawaii statewide: 2.1 (29)
- Hawaii metro: 2.2 (25)
- Key West: 4.0 (1)
- PR Southwest: 8.1 (11)
- PR Northwest: 9.3 (31)
- Miami: 16.7 (69)
- Puerto Rico overall: 26.7 (978)
- San Juan: 32.0 (742)
- St. Croix: 47.4 (24)
- St. Thomas: 54.2 (28)
Notable other U.S. cities that rank poorly include: Detroit (54.6), New Orleans (53.2), Atlantic City (47.8), Jackson MS (35.8), Baton Rouge (28.1), and even Fort Myers, Florida at 37.3.
Prior to seeing the stats above, would you have felt safer visiting Ft. Myers over San Juan?
When it comes to violent crimes per 100,000 people, Puerto Rico as a whole ranks somewhere in the middle of the 50 U.S. states with an average of 273.8 per 100k. The outer metro areas of New York are nearly 10 times this at 2311.5 per 100,000. My hometown of Las Vegas, NV is an unimpressive 784.0. Flint Michigan is a dismal 2729.5, Detroit is at 2122.9, and tourist destination Atlantic City is at 1759.7. For my twelve tropical locations, however, the tale of the tape gives the edge to Western Puerto Rico.
- PR Southwest: 85.9 (117)
- PR Northwest: 113.2 (378)
- Jupiter, FL: 202.9 (115)
- Hawaii Metro: 235.8 (2675)
- Hawaii Statewide: 239.2 (3330)
- Hawaii non-metro: 254.2 (655)
- Puerto Rico overall: 273.8 (10,041)
- San Juan: 336.4 (7790)
- Key West: 823.8 (208)
- St. Croix: 903.1 (457)
- St. Thomas: 1090.4 (563)
- Miami: 1172.0 (4856)
Puerto Rico violent crimes per 100,000 are actually on the low end for the West Coast, while San Juan – despite it’s high murder rate – ranks around the middle of the rest of the U.S. for its violent crime rate.
In regards to violent crime rate per 100,000 Puerto Rico as a whole ranks as the 17th best – only 7 places behind Hawaii – in the entire US. It ranks slightly better than Wisconsin and Connecticut.
I have read in multiple forums that Puerto Rico is notorious for carjackings. While I could not find specific totals on carjackings, there are totals regarding auto thefts in general. In my comparison, Hawaii’s perceived safety falls flat in auto theft, ranking far below the rest of the field. Western Puerto Rico once again tops this list as the safest area.
- PR Southwest: 23.5 (32)
- PR Northwest: 37.4 (125)
- St. Thomas: 52.3 (27)
- Jupiter, FL: 75.9 (43)
- Puerto Rico overall: 159.4 (5847)
- San Juan: 222.1 (5144)
- St. Croix: 245.1 (124)
- Key West: 376.3 (95)
- Miami: 654.3 (2711)
- Hawaii non-metro: 2183.3 (5626)
- Hawaii statewide: 2243.2 (31233)
- Hawaii Metro: 2256.8 (25607)
- Hawaii non-metro: 39.2 (101)
- PR Southwest: 46.3 (63)
- PR Northwest: 59.3 (198)
- Jupiter, FL: 65.3 (37)
- Hawaii statewide: 74.7 (1040)
- Hawaii Metro: 82.8 (939)
- Puerto Rico overall: 171.7 (6298)
- St. Croix: 199.6 (101)
- Key West: 202.0 (51)
- San Juan: 224.4 (5197)
- St. Thomas: 275.0 (142)
- Miami: 505.9 (2096)
This is one you don’t see very often, but Puerto Rico has one of the lowest incidents of rape in the world. In comparison, Alaska’s population of 730,000 experienced 583 rapes in 2012.
- PR Northwest: 0.0 (0)
- San Juan: 0.7 (17)
- PR Southwest: 0.7 (1)
- Puerto Rico overall: 0.9 (32)
- Miami: 15.7 (65)
- Hawaii Metro: 18.0 (204)
- Jupiter, FL: 19.4 (11)
- Hawaii statewide: 20.5 (285)
- Hawaii non-metro: 31.4 (81)
- St. Croix: 41.5 (21)
- St. Thomas: 50.4 (26)
- Key West: 83.2 (21)
Once again, Puerto Rico sweeps the board with the lowest rate of assault, even in San Juan.
- Puerto Rico Southwest: 30.8 (42)
- Puerto Rico Northwest: 44.6 (149)
- Puerto Rico overall: 74.5 (2733)
- San Juan: 79.2 (1834)
- Jupiter, FL: 118.2 (67)
- Hawaii Metro: 132.8 (1507)
- Hawaii statewide: 141.9 (1976)
- Hawaii non-metro: 182.0 (469)
- Key West: 534.7 (135)
- St. Croix: 614.6 (311)
- Miami: 633.8 (2626)
- St. Thomas: 710.8 (367)
- PR Southwest: 332.6 (453)
- San Juan: 411.4 (9527)
- Jupiter, FL: 414.7 (235)
- Puerto Rico overall: 416.9 (15,287)
- PR Northwest: 498.1 (1663)
- Miami: 1027.0 (4255)
- Key West: 1148.6 (290)
- St. Croix: 1252.9 (634)
- St. Thomas: 1313.1 (678)
- Hawaii Metro: 3056.4 (34,679)
- Hawaii statewide: 3075.2 (42,817)
- Hawaii non-metro: 3158.2 (8138)
- St. Thomas: 220.8 (114)
- PR Southwest: 352.5 (480)
- Hawaii metro: 532.2 (6039)
- PR Northwest: 566.7 (1892)
- Hawaii statewide: 573.1 (7979)
- Hawaii non-metro: 752.9 (1940)
- Puerto Rico overall: 833.0 (30,545)
- San Juan: 941.6 (21,804)
- St. Croix: 1243.1 (629)
- Jupiter, FL: 1619.8 (918)
- Miami: 3693.9 (15,305)
- Key West: 4598.2 (1161)
Overall Crime Ranks
The numbers below are the averages of my 12 tropical U.S. locations among the various categories above. In this list, we want a higher number, because a lower number means that location is closest to #1 (the highest crime rate) on average. Jupiter, Florida, for example, averaged #8 across all categories above (with #1 being worst and #12 being best).
1. Puerto Rico Southwest: 10.67
2. Puerto Rico Northwest: 9.56
3. Jupiter, FL: 8.00
4. Puerto Rico statewide: 7.22
(tie) Hawaii Metro: 7.22
6. San Juan: 6.67
(tie) Hawaii statewide: 6.67
(tie) Hawaii non-metro: 6.67
9. St. Thomas: 4.11
10. St. Croix: 3.89
11. Key West: 3.78
12. Miami: 3.56
The Southwest Puerto Rico area ranked no higher than 7 in any category, while the Northwest coast ranked no higher than 6.
If we weigh all crime stats together – and not focusing solely on the murder rate – it looks like the West Coast of Puerto Rico has the best average for crime in my tropical short-list.
Surprisingly, crime in Key West and Miami rank below the two cities in the Virgin Islands, and I know many people who regularly vacation in Key West with a complete sense of safety.
For those who may say that criminals in the bad areas of San Juan could merely drive to the West Coast to cause problems, keep in mind that the distance from Miami to the much-safer Jupiter, Florida is about the same distance from San Juan to the West Coast of Puerto Rico. And the drive from the worst areas of Las Vegas to my home in a safe area of Henderson is only about 15 minutes.
I should also point out that, statewide, virtually all of the categories above saw declines in Puerto Rico in 2013, so it is possible that a full comparison of 2013 numbers – when they are released by the FBI – may be even more favorable to the island.
There are other items that I will be weighing in my decision to move to a U.S.-based tropical paradise, but for now Puerto Rico’s west coast shockingly wins my top spot.
Am I saying there is no crime in Puerto Rico? Of course not. I’ve been there – and even got lost driving around in the middle of a rather scary neighborhood. But I can show you a street corner in downtown Las Vegas that is every bit as scary as these areas of Puerto Rico. And yes, there are murders in Puerto Rico, mostly bad guys killing bad guys due to drugs in crime-infested areas. To judge Puerto Rico in its entirety by its high crime areas would be like judging all of Florida by Miami or all of California by Compton.
And this is probably why I’ve seen so many different opinions on Puerto Rico. Some say it is terrible and want to leave, while others call it paradise. How can this be? It must have something to do with the areas in which these people live. Those in a suburb of San Juan may not be as pleased with Puerto Rico as those on the west coast.
I will be getting to other quality of life factors – such as the economy – in future posts.