Community Safety

Injuries through accidents or violence are the third leading cause of death in the United States, and the leading cause for those between the ages of one and 44. Accidents and violence affect health and quality of life in the short and long-term, for those both directly and indirectly affected, and living in unsafe neighborhoods can impact health in a multitude of ways.

Why Is Community Safety Important to Health?

Community safety reflects not only violent acts in neighborhoods and homes, but also injuries caused unintentionally through accidents. Many injuries are predictable and preventable, yet about 30 million Americans receive medical treatment for injuries each year [1], and more than 243,000 died from these injuries in 2017 [2]. 

In 2017, unintentional injuries were the leading cause of death among individuals ages 1 through 44. Among these unintentional injury deaths, drowning was the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4, motor vehicle traffic accidents were the leading cause of injury death for individuals ages 5–24, and unintentional poisoning was the leading cause of injury death for individuals ages 25-64. Unintentional injury was the fifth leading cause of death for infants, and among these deaths, suffocation was most common [2].

In 2016, approximately 5.7 million violent crimes such as assault, robbery, and rape, were committed [3]. Each year, 19,000 children and adults are victims of homicide and more than 1,700 children die from abuse or neglect [1,4]. Children in unsafe circumstances can suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and exhibit more aggressive behavior, alcohol and tobacco use, and sexual risk-taking than peers in safer environments [5]. 

The chronic stress associated with living in unsafe neighborhoods can accelerate aging and harm health. Unsafe neighborhoods can cause anxiety, depression, and stress, and are linked to higher rates of pre-term births and low birthweight babies, even when income is accounted for. Fear of violence can keep people indoors, away from neighbors, exercise, and healthy foods. Companies may be less willing to invest in unsafe neighborhoods, making jobs harder to find [5].

One in four women experiences intimate partner violence (IPV) during their life, and more than 4 million are assaulted by their partners each year [5]. IPV causes 2,000 deaths annually and increases the risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and chronic pain [1].

Injuries sustained in one year will generate more than $794 billion in lifetime costs [1]. Communities can help protect their residents by adopting and implementing policies and programs to prevent accidents and violence.

References

[1] Levi J, Segal LM, Kohn D. The Facts Hurt – A State-by-State Injury Prevention Policy Report. Trust for America’s Health. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. June 2015. 
[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Data. Updated January 18, 2019. Accessed March 14, 2019.
[3] Morgan RE, Kena G. Criminal Victimization, 2016. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). December 2017. NCJ 251150.
[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention. Updated April 10, 2018. Accessed March 14, 2019.
[5] Egerter S, Barclay C, Grossman-Kahn R, Braveman P. Violence, social disadvantage and health. Princeton: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF); 2011. Exploring the Social Determinants of Health Issue Brief No. 10.

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Our Rankings show how healthy a community is as well as indicators for future health. This provides a starting point for action on improving health for all. Dig deeper into the measures below to learn more about our approaches to measuring health.

When it comes to developing and implementing solutions to problems that affect communities, evidence matters. The strategies below give some ideas of ways communities can harness evidence to make a difference locally. You can learn more about these and other strategies in What Works for Health, which summarizes and rates evidence for policies, programs, and systems changes.

Establish laws that require bicyclists to wear helmets; laws can apply to children or all bicyclists and can be established at the state or local level
Implement a policing philosophy based on community partnership, organizational transformation, and problem solving techniques to proactively address public safety issues: also called community-oriented policing
Use specialized courts to offer criminal offenders with drug dependency problems an alternative to adjudication or incarceration

The County Health Rankings provide a snapshot of a community’s health and a starting point for investigating and discussing ways to improve health. Select a state below to see what’s happening locally.