By Amelia Acosta and Anmargaret Warner
Violent crime rose in the U.S. last year for the first time since 2006, according to FBI statistics
. However, the recent 1.2 percent increase belies a long-term trend: America is becoming a much safer country
To find out which parts of America are the safest, we looked at the FBI's latest report on crime and found cities with violent crime rates substantially below the national average.
We only included cities with populations of more than 200,000 to exclude suburban areas. Many of the cities are repeat winners from our 2011 report on America's safest cities
Irvine, Calif., was the safest city in the country for the ninth consecutive year. The city of just more than 200,000 has one of the country's top-ranked school systems, a median household income well above the national average, and a crime prevention method that includes keeping a thorough record of violence.
Fifteen of the 20 safest cities are located in the Southwest, including six in California. Conversely, on our list of the 25 most dangerous cities
, the only two Southwestern cities were in California.
Clearly there's a geographic trend here. It should be noted, however, that different crime reporting policies among police departments may make some cities appear safer or more dangerous than they really are.
Neighboring cities Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, Va., are the only two on the list with murder rates equal to or above the national average. However, rape and robbery rates that are substantially below the national average compensate for this difference.
El Paso, Texas, one of the safest cities, is located directly across the Mexico-U.S. border from Juarez, Mexico, one of the world's most violent cities
. Officials there say that drug cartels keep their base of operations in Mexico to avoid encounters with U.S. law enforcement.
It also turns out that safety has its trade-offs: four of the safest cities (Chula Vista, Calif., Hialeah, Fla., Chandler, Ariz., and Henderson, Nev.) also appear on Forbes's list of the 10 most boring cities
These were the safest cities in 2012:
More on Business Insider:
The 25 Most Dangerous Cities in America
The 25 Most Popular Tourist Attractions in the World
The 11 Most Polluted Beaches in the U.S