A spokesman for Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said the city expects to fall farther down the list in coming years.
"Basically, we're not surprised that's Detroit fallen from the top of the list like that," Jamaine Dickens said. "We found that while crime is going up in other parts of country, in Detroit it's going down."
Dickens said crime in the city dropped 5 percent across the board last year. Generally, however, he said he doesn't put much weight behind such rankings.
"Every community is totally different and very unique," Dickens said.
Detroit, however, ranks most dangerous among cities with populations of 500,000 or more.
According to the ranking by Lawrence, Kan.-based Morgan Quitno Press, Flint is the fourth most dangerous among cities with populations between 100,000 and 499,999, while Sterling Heights is the fifth-safest.
St. Louis' marketers and criminologists quickly scoffed, dismissing the findings as another meaningless bid to satisfy America's craving for rankings of everything from college sports teams to the most-beautiful people alive.
"People are inundated with this type of things, and they read it for what it is," the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission's Nancy Milton said. "I think people generally look at studies like this with a practiced, critical eye."
Milton said the city's roughly 17 million guests each year wouldn't be coming - or in many cases, returning - to shop, visit the Gateway Arch or the city's historic neighborhoods, or dine at ethnic eateries if they felt threatened. Few, she says, ask beforehand about St. Louis' safety.
Using FBI crime figures for 2001, Morgan Quitno Press declared Amherst, N.Y., America's safest city for the third year in a row, followed by Brick Township, N.J.; Newton, Mass.; and the California communities of Thousand Oaks and Sunnyvale.
Among 271 metropolitan areas ranked, Danbury, Conn., was tapped the nation's safest, while the Memphis area came in as the most dangerous.
On the heels of St. Louis and Detroit among the nation's most-dangerous cities were Atlanta, Gary, Ind., and Baltimore, according to Morgan Quitno's rankings, now in their ninth year.
The rankings are based on a city's rate for six crime categories: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft. All cities of at least 75,000 residents that reported crime data to the FBI for the six crime categories were included in the rankings.
Final 2001 statistics, released by the FBI in October, determined the rankings, Morgan Quitno said. For its methodology, Morgan Quitno plugged crime rates for the six categories per 100,000 population into a formula measuring how a certain city or metropolitan area compared to the national average for a given category.
That outcome then was multiplied by a weight assigned to each crime category. Each of the six crimes was given equal weight so that cities were compared based purely on their crime rates and how they stack up to the national average, the company said.
The weighted numbers then were combined for a city or metro area's final score.
University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist Scott Decker called the St. Louis-related rankings misleading, arguing they fail to point out the city's 60 percent drop and the steady decline of overall crime here over the past decade.
Scott Morgan, Morgan Quitno's president, said his company's yearly rankings of states in terms of such things as quality of life, health and education seldom get scrutinized. But touchiness over crime rankings comes with the turf, he said.
"As a person who has made a career with numbers, I know they can dance the way you want them to. That's a legitimate argument," he said. "It's a moving target each year, but you need the snapshot to assess yourself against everyone else that's out there.
"I guess I don't understand it hurts someone to know how their city fares on something as basic as the crime rate."