Iowa’s population expanded by about 100,000 people, according to 2020 Census reports, which equates to a growth rate of less than five percent. While that’s well behind some of the fastest movers (Utah wins that distinction thanks to a growth rate of 18 percent), the 10-year Census count increase was Iowa’s biggest since 2000.

For those who currently live in other states and are in the market for a change, Iowa could be an attractive spot thanks to its low property crime rates. Not only does Iowa boast combined property crime rates lower than most of its neighbors, such crime is also on the downswing.

Let’s take a deep dive on property crime in Iowa, including how common it is and how it’s changed over time, as well as which communities have the highest and lowest rates in the state.

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At A Glance:

    • With #1 being the best, Iowa is ranked #16 for property crime out of 50 states + Washington, D.C.
    • You have a 1.73% chance of being a property crime victim in Iowa in the next 12 months.
    • Iowa’s property crime rate is 18% lower than the average crime rate in the United States.
    • Council Bluffs has the highest property crime rate in Iowa (58.5 incidents per 1,000 people).
  • The high property crime rate in Council Bluffs is not related to its small population size, which is the case in many other states. The city of about 62,000 is the 10th-biggest city in Iowa, and it makes up half of the metro area of Omaha-Council Bluffs.

Iowa’s 2019 property crime rate of 17.3 incidents per 1,000 people is quite a bit lower than the overall U.S. rate, and while it’s higher than that of Wisconsin, it is lower than all its other neighbors.

Iowa’s Most Current Property Crime Rates (2019)

  • Rate of Property Crime
    • Iowa average:: 17.3 crimes per 1,000 people
    • National average: 21.1 crimes per 1,000 people

All but two states (Alaska and North Dakota) saw their property crime rates decline since 2010, and Iowa’s property crime rate today is 23 percent lower than it was a decade ago. While that’s good news, that decline is lower than the average drop of 27 percent, but 2019 represents the low-water mark for Iowa’s property crime rate, so perhaps further declines are in the offing.

Iowa’s Overall Property Crime Trends (2010 – 2019)

    • Average Rate of Property Crime:
      • Iowa 10-year average: 20.98 crimes per 1,000 people
      • National 10-year average: 25.61 crimes per 1,000 people
    • -23% Has property crime increased or decreased during this time?
      • There was a 23% decrease in property crime in Iowa from 2010 as compared to 2019.
    • 2011 Which year had the highest rate of property crime in Iowa?:
      • The highest rate of property crime in Iowa was 2011 (23.51 crimes per 1,000 people)
    • 2019 Which year had the lowest rate of property crime in Iowa?:
      • The lowest rate of property crime in Iowa was 2019 (17.34 crimes per 1,000 people)

What incidents fall under the umbrella of property crime? Burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson are the four major property crime categories reported by the FBI. In every case, if the incident involves violence or threats of violence, it no longer is a property crime and is classified as a violent crime.

Iowa’s Property Crime Category Trends (2010 – 2019)

      • Which type of property crime occurred the most in Iowa over the past decade?
        • Larceny occurred more than any other property crime at a rate of 14.7 crimes per 1,000 people.
        • Average property crime rate by category
          • Average burglary rate: 4.9 crimes per 1,000 people
          • Average larceny rate: 14.7 crimes per 1,000 people
          • Average vehicle crime rate: 1.5 crimes per 1,000 people
          • Average arson rate: 0.19 crimes per 1,000 people
        • Note: There were no FBI estimates for arson rates, so we used all available data that was reported by individual cities in Iowa.
      • +31% Which types of property crime have increased during this time period?
        • Vehicle theft was the only type of property crime to increase in Iowa since 2010, rising by 31%.
      • -32% Which types of property crime have decreased during this time period?
        • Arson had the biggest decline (35%), while burglary was a close second with a 32% drop.

What do Iowa’s low property crime rates indicate about the state? While it’s true that correlation does not equal causation, many researchers have connected high property crime rates to high incidents of three big factors — poverty, unemployment, and urbanization.

So, what do those factors look like in Iowa? About 11.2 percent of Iowa residents are in poverty, which is lower than the U.S. rate of 12.3 percent, while only 64 percent of people in Iowa live in urban areas. This is far lower than the U.S. urbanization rate of 81 percent, though it represents an increase of about 12 percent since the 1970s. Finally, Iowa’s unemployment rate for April 2021 was just 3.8 percent, tied for 11th lowest and far lower than the U.S. rate of about six percent.

With the hyperlocal nature of crime, it’s helpful to zoom in even further. Prairie City, a tiny community of about 1,700 people, had Iowa’s lowest property crime rate, 1.73 incidents per 1,000 people. The Jasper County town’s rate was due to just three incidents in 2019. 

However, as we discussed, Council Bluffs, one of the state’s largest cities, also had the highest property crime rate, while Des Moines, its capital and largest city, had the fourth-highest rate and Sioux City was fourth in population and fifth in property crime. That means high rates in these communities aren’t just a statistical anomaly.

Top 5: Best Property Crime Rates (based on 2019 data)*:

  • Prairie City, Iowa (Jasper County)
  • Harlan, Iowa (Shelby County)
  • Osage, Iowa (Mitchell County)
  • Forest City, Iowa (Hancock and Winnebago counties)
  • Hawarden, Iowa (Sioux County)

Bottom 5: Worst Property Crime Rates (based on 2019 data):

  • Council Bluffs, Iowa (Pottawattamie County)
  • Windsor Heights, Iowa (Polk County)
  • Ottumwa, Iowa (Wapello County)
  • Des Moines, Iowa (Des Moines County)
  • Sioux City, Iowa (Woodbury County)

* Excludes cities with zero property crime reported