Alabama : Safety by City
- Gulf Shores
- Muscle Shoals
- Phenix City
Decatur, Alabama is one of northern Alabama’s largest cities and sits just across the river from nearby Huntsville.
While a river runs through it the cities, in many ways, feel worlds away, but they complement each other well.
This was once a city burned to the ground in the Civil War, with just a few buildings still standing from that arson.
When a city is the main transportation hub, with the railroad and river traffic, of course, it was going to rise from the ashes.
Rise, it did.
Downtown Decatur was once a happening town of nightlife where everyone got dressed up and attended one of many musical performances.
You can take a walking tour app through the most historic parts of the city, from the remnants of the Civil War devastation through some of the best Southern food you’ll ever have.
This city is now home to 58,000 people and many commutes to nearby Huntsville for the great jobs at NASA, Redstone Arsenal, or the technology sector.
Warnings & Dangers in Decatur
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low overall risk in Decatur. The 2020 data from the Uniform Crime Report still isn't complete on the website or the Alabama Department of Law Enforcement website, but there are enough items we can talk through.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
There isn't a good public transportation option in Decatur with regular bus routes and having a car is ideal. NARCOG is a local government-run shuttle you can book for a place in town or a rural trip, but you have to book a day in advance. Taxis and rideshares are available. All come with low risk.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
There were 43 pickpockets reported in 2020, but I can't seem in the research to find out why (mostly because of that incomplete data). This is surprising to me because I've been to Decatur many times in my life and it was never crowded enough to feel like I was in a crowd big enough to pickpocket me. While it's still just 43 in a city of 58,000, it is one of the higher pickpocket numbers I've seen in my research, so it needs to be a medium risk. To confirm that, I checked the crime maps for the most recent six months and I'm just baffled at how many thefts happen here. From August 2021 through March 2022, there were 26 pickpockets.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Decatur can get severe weather and is no stranger to tornadoes. This is in a part of the country known as Dixie Alley, second to only Tornado Alley in the Plains states. Tornadoes are so much a part of life here that it has four community shelters in case people can't get to safety in their homes or workplaces. There's a medium risk because you should take all storms here very seriously.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
The mugging risk here is low assuming you stay near attractions, tourist sites, and recreation areas. The police here didn't report specific "Highway Robbery" crime data, so I'm telling you from personal experience of a middle-aged woman who lived near Decatur (Huntsville) and visited often. There are some areas I wouldn't stop my car in, but it's visually clear when there's a sign of danger, plus that gut instinct.
TERRORISM RISK : MEDIUM
The biggest terrorism risk in this area is in Huntsville, so since Decatur is just 30 minutes away, I'm going to keep it at medium risk. Huntsville has NASA, Redstone Arsenal, and an abundance of tech industries that would be hard targets.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Residential phone scams are the biggest scams here, so a tourist has a low risk of getting scammed.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
I've hiked into the Decatur wilderness alone, lunch with a female friend, and driven around this city day and night. There's a low risk, but there are definitely some parking lots where I wouldn't leave my car. You're safe, but you're also in a city of big trucks and tough Southern people, so if you start trouble, they'll finish it.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The tap water in Decatur has a low risk and the treatment plants here have even won awards for being so sufficient. The water meets or exceeds all required standards.
Safest Places to Visit in Decatur
Decatur has a lot of outdoor attractions.
Start the day at Joe Wheeler Wildlife Refuge.
Here you can boat or fish if you want to be near the water.
There are miles of hiking trails that are easy for all levels of hiking experience.
Birds are a big deal in this refuge and there are dozens of varieties at home in the park.
There are also plenty of deer in the refuge.
Head to the Cook Museum of Natural Science, where you can explore two levels of plants, animals, and water.
There’s a massive saltwater aquarium and a cave inside the museum.
The forest exhibit is interactive, so get ready to climb a tree.
There’s also an out-of-this-world find somewhere in the museum, but I’ll let you find that on your own since it’s so cool!
Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Big Bob Gibson’s Barbecue.
You’ve probably already heard a lot about this place as you’ve met people along the way, so don’t be let down when it’s the size of an average sit-down or take-out restaurant.
The food is still amazing.
This is the home of white BBQ sauce and yes, it sounds weird, but trust me – you have to at least try it.
It’s quite good and I’m a very picky eater.
If you like it, feel free to buy a bottle to take home with you.
Point Mallard State Park is a great way to burn off that BBQ meal.
There are plenty of sporting fields and courts.
A water park beacons during the humid summer, and the place will be packed during prime times of the year.
Get the city’s app and you have a historic walking tour you can do to see the four remaining buildings from the era when the town burned down during the Civil War and some other notable historical markers.
Places to Avoid in Decatur
My experience tells me the area is really hit or miss, and crime maps back that up.
The highest crime rates are scattered from near the river to further west.
The southeast part of the downtown area, west Decatur, and Russell Village have the highest crime rates on the crime map.
You really can tell when you’re driving in Decatur what kind of neighborhood it is.
There are rows of historic homes and then you’ll turn into a neighborhood of rundown homes with mean dogs barking at you and people eyeing you suspiciously and then you’ll be back on the main road where someone waves you through a stop sign because they are just that nice.
Drugs are a problem in this small community, and even as recently as February 22, a drug house was busted and condemned on 9th Street.
Use your gut instincts and it helps if a local comes along with you to help navigate the good and bad neighborhoods.
This is the South and everyone knows everyone else’s business.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Decatur
- Be warned when you first come over the bridge into Decatur, there’s a dog food processing plant and it can smell like the worst smell ever – times two. I’m a huge dog lover and I even loathed the smell that came from that plant. It was just suffocating. It doesn’t last the whole time you are in Decatur.
- Study where the tornado shelters are in town before you arrive so you know the locations. Ask at your hotel if they have a safe place to go during a severe storm. You won’t seem overly nervous, these people have lived through hell with tornadoes.
- Speaking of which, this entire state was devastated by tornadoes in the mass outbreak of April 2011. If someone starts to tell their story, listen. Don’t make fun, and don’t laugh. People are haunted by that day as a series of relenting storms that started in the overnight hours and went well past sundown.
- Have a good weather app with you and downtown the National Weather Service app as well. If you’re staying a while, a NOAA weather radio is a must in case cell service goes down.
- If a tornado watch is issued for the area, plan to do indoor activities until the watch expires. A watch means conditions are ripe for damaging storms capable of causing tornadoes to form.
- The Police Department has a community crime map where you can search for the date, type of crime, location, etc., and can sort the information in a variety of ways. I highly recommend you do this before booking a place to stay to see what crimes have happened in that area.
- Most of the parking lots in the downtown area are going to be along the 1st and 2nd avenues. I liked to park in the lot right across from the police station. You’ll be near many of the shopping and historical attractions.
- People in Decatur are going to speak in a Southern accent and they’ve got their own phrases that are common. If you don’t have a Southern accent or have a Northern accent, you might get called a Yankee. Don’t get offended. I spent an afternoon with a friend’s family in nearby Hartsells (“HEART-sull”) and the grandmother asked me where I was from and I answered. She said in the nicest way, “I thought I heard a little Yankee in your voice.”
- There’s a type of restaurant in this area called “Meat and Three.” I had never heard of this, so I asked what it was. When people got done laughing at “The Yankee”, they explained it’s a restaurant where you get a choice of one meat and three sides.
- If you’re visiting Decatur as part of a trip to Huntsville, Athens is a safe city to stay in that’s a little more right in the middle of the two. You have a Walmart there and plenty of chain dining options.
So... How Safe Is Decatur Really?
This city is a smaller Alabama town with some big-city problems like drugs.
The FBI data isn’t consistent, so I’m not going to rely on that.
What I can give you is the most recent crime data, via that community crime map.
Here’s the tally by the numbers from August 2021 through March 2022:
- Homicide: 3
- Theft: 467
- Robbery: 4 (in a public place)
- Motor Vehicle Theft: 108
- Drug/Narcotics Violations: 131
- Aggravated Assult: 76
Many of the crimes in Decatur are domestic situations either involving families, children, or known parties exchanging or fighting over drugs.
If you visit The Shoals (Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, Tuscumbia) to the west, the crime numbers there are much lower and there are some great historic sites to see.
Read our additional article about Muscle Shoals to get more information.
How Does Decatur Compare?
|New York City||67|
|Niagara Falls (Canada)||87|
|Buenos Aires (Argentina)||60|
- Visas - You don't need to bring any additional citizenship verification to Decatur. Your Visa will be checked at the airport.
- Currency - You'll use the U.S Dollar here and, based on the pickpocket potential, don't bring any cash with you. You won't need it and it's just another reason to put out a wallet where others can see your stash. Keep purchases through credit card or on a mobile app.
- Weather - Decatur gets very humid in the summer and temperatures get near the 90s. The nights cool off to the 70s, but it's still really sticky from the humidity. Winters generally only get into the 50s for highs and 30s for lows, but don't rule out a cold spell where a couple of inches of snow accumulates. Pack for the season, but always bring a jacket and rain gear just in case.
- Airports - The Huntsville Airport is just 20 minutes away, but it's really not that big of an airport. A lot of people drive to either Nashville, which is two hours north of Birmingham, which is 90 minutes south. All routes to the airports are along major interstates.
- Travel Insurance - You should get travel insurance here because odd weather or downright severe weather can stop air traffic and cause delays for hours or days.
Decatur Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Alabama - Safety by City