Illinois : Safety by City
- Arlington Heights
- Crystal Lake
- Des Plaines
- East St Louis
- Fairview Heights
- Granite City
- Mount Prospect
- Oak Lawn
- Rock Island
- Tinley Park
East St. Louis, Illinois, sits just across the Mississippi River from the city of St. Louis, Missouri.
It is part of the larger St. Louis metropolitan area that stretches from Alton to Arnold, north and south, and Alton, Illinois to Alton, Missouri, east to west.
East St. Louis is traditionally known as the “bad part” of town.
Even in the past decade, the population has gone down by 32% to just 18,000 people.
Crime rates are historically high, even record-breaking, at times.
Many travelers might look to a place like East St. Louis for less expensive hotel options close to the bigger city, but there are hardly any hotels in the city.
The city suffers a history of racial tension, gang activity, violent crime, and industrial decline.
When the economy suffers, it seems to hit East St. Louis particularly hard.
This is a city where almost 31% of people live in poverty and the average income is less than $25,000.
Full disclosure, St. Louis is my hometown, and I’ve only been to East St. Louis when I was driving through to Chicago or accidentally missed the last Missouri exit (which is a VERY easy thing to do if you aren’t paying attention).
Over the decades, East St. Louis has tried to improve its reputation and crime rate.
It’s still a place that isn’t fit for a family vacation unless you are visiting friends or family in the area.
The crime rates are showing a slow trend of decline.
It’s still a dangerous place, especially after dark.
Warnings & Dangers in East St Louis
OVERALL RISK: HIGH
There's a high risk in East St. Louis for someone who doesn't know much about the city or its history. The 2020 crime numbers are an anomaly compared to the crime rates from previous years, so we're going back to 2019 to get crime data here.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: MEDIUM
You can ride the Metro bus and rail line from East St. Louis. There's a commuter lot for the Metro. You can also get a taxi or rideshare. Just being in East St. Louis comes with a lot of risks, so there's a medium risk when waiting for or riding the Metro. I'd also be cautious about a taxi or rideshare. Having your own car is great, but there's also a greater risk of a break-in or theft.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: MEDIUM
Theft rates have gone down over the past decade. What was once a one in 23 chance of being a theft victim is now one in 132. Don't let that reassure you. This area can also be distrustful of police or victims can be scared to report crimes, so the actual crime data might not be reflective of the total number of thefts. If you bring something of value to East St. Louis, there is a medium risk of it being stolen. I once made that wrong exit into East St. Louis and when I went to a gas station to get help, I watched as my hubcaps were stolen.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
Longtime residents have heard the stories of the 1986 "Great Cyclone", which was a series of tornadoes that wrecked part of St. Louis and East St. Louis. 255 people died on both sides of the river in a 10-mile path of terror. Tornadoes are likely during the spring and summer here, with a chance in late fall as well. Winters will undoubtedly get some kind of snowfall. The city is also just a few hours from the large New Madrid Fault Line, so there's a risk of earthquakes as well. All that together makes a medium risk, so be prepared for any kind of event.
MUGGING RISK: MEDIUM
There's a medium risk here, and again we go back to the number of robberies reported versus the ones that weren't reported. In 2019, there were 32 robberies, making there a one in 577 chance of being a victim. There is a heavy gang presence in East St. Louis, so there is no fear of taking things by force.
TERRORISM RISK: MEDIUM
St. Louis is a major metropolitan area with several military locations, including Scott Air Force Base, which is just 20 miles away from East St. Louis. Any large population center is going to be a medium risk.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
The scam risk is low here, but that's mainly because there aren't a lot of tourists who come here to even get scammed. It's also a place where a person is more likely to take something by force than manipulation.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: HIGH
Unless you know someone who lives here, you have a high risk of being a victim of some kind of crime. There aren't amenities here like shopping, spas, walking trails, and safe parks to explore. Definitely don't go to East St. Louis alone.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
All of the water meets the requirements of the state and federal governments. There were no violations in the latest annual water quality report.
Safest Places to Visit in East St Louis
One of the most recent attractions to the city is the Gateway Geyser.
It’s a water fountain that is the tallest in the country and reaches the same height as the Gateway Arch just across the river in downtown St. Louis.
Also in that area, you can get a stunning view of the St. Louis skyline at the Mississippi River Overlook.
There is a casino in East St. Louis called Draft Kings at Casino Queen.
While you’re safe inside, ask a security guard to walk you to your car on the way out.
The Katherine Dunham Museum is a great place to learn about the history and artwork of Ms. Dunham.
You’ll see more than 250 pieces of artwork celebrating African and Caribbean work and the collection spans 50 countries.
Learning the history of Ms. Dunham and her incredible rise as a dancer, choreographer and activist is a valuable lesson for today’s generations.
Miles Davis grew up in this community and the House of Miles is available for tours by appointment only.
You can tour Miles’ childhood home and learn about his musical influences on the world.
Places to Avoid in East St Louis
Violent crime here is three times the Illinois average and well above the national average.
While the crime rates are going down, so is the population.
That leaves a lot of blighted and abandoned buildings and neighborhoods.
Unless you have a friend or family obligation in East St. Louis, I’d avoid the entire city.
Some people have a desire to drive through to see the rundown area or the “ghetto”, as some people call it.
There are plenty of YouTube videos touting “Come see the ghetto of East St. Louis!”.
I would avoid doing that as well.
This is a city where more than 80,000 people once lived trying to build a life.
Their dreams were dashed by industrial demise, race wars, and economic downturn after downturn.
This is not something to tour.
It’s something we should all hope gets rebuilt into a safer community, and looking at the 10-year crime trends, it’s getting itself into a safer place.
It’s just not there yet.
Safety Tips for Traveling to East St Louis
- If you need to get gas while driving through this area, either stop in O’Fallon or Belleview on the east side or wait until you get through to Midtown St. Louis on the west.
- When parking your car anywhere in East St. Louis, you must roll up the windows, lock the doors, put an anti-theft device on the steering wheel, and remove all belongings. Don’t hide stuff in the trunk as the thieves know to look there.
- Only visit East St. Louis during the day. There is little to nothing to do at night, aside from the casino. There are few streetlights in this city and a lot of abandoned buildings that hold nothing but the potential for danger.
- Sign up for CodeRED alerts through the city website. This will give you all the emergency information you need to know, from weather warnings to road closures.
- If you have information about a crime that is non-urgent, you can call Crime Stoppers at (866)371-8477. You will remain anonymous and information leading to an arrest can get you a reward of up to $1000.
- Do not go into the Mississippi River. Too many people think the river is like any other river and they can swim in or across it. The current of the river, especially where it meets St. Louis is incredibly strong. Even strong swimmers couldn’t make it all the way across. As someone who grew up along that river, I can also tell you it stinks. I wouldn’t want to get into that water just based on the water quality concerns alone.
- Store this number in your phone. (618)482-6600. That’s the number to the city of East St. Louis. If you have any questions about safety, policies, or anything else, call and ask as many questions as you want.
- If you see any kind of fight or altercation happening, do not get involved. You might be inadvertently stepping into a gang war. Just call 911 and provide as much information as possible.
- For those who want to catch some fish while they’re visiting, you are going to love the size of the catfish that grow in the Mississippi River near East St. Louis. Be sure to follow St. Louis Catfishing guide for the rules and best locations.
- You will need a license from the state where you’ll be fishing. Since the Mississippi River runs through Illinois and Missouri, you will need to carefully monitor changing rules about which state license you need. There are some spots where an Illinois license will suffice in Missouri and vice versa, but not all waters follow this rule.
So... How Safe Is East St Louis Really?
Not only is East St. Louis not that safe, but it’s also not that popular for tourists.
There are some incredible historical sites, like the Miles Davis childhood home, to learn about the history of the city and the amazing people who went on to greatness after living here.
I don’t want to disrespect a city that brought us a lot of great talent.
The crime trends over the past decade have gone down substantially.
In 2010, 1757 violent crimes were reported.
In 2019, that number was down to 268.
Part of it is law enforcement cracking down, but another part is people leaving.
There are just a lot of abandoned buildings in the city or homes so dilapidated they aren’t fit for a person to live in.
The city averages 25 homicides a year over the past decade.
Many crimes here are gang-on-gang or domestic issues, and rarely are strangers just attacked for no reason.
The problem is that potential still exists.
If you are going to be visiting the St. Louis area, it’s best to stay farther out in Illinois or across the river into the midtown or suburban area of St. Louis, as St. Louis itself has some rather dangerous areas.
How Does East St Louis Compare?
|East St Louis
|New York City
|Phnom Penh (Cambodia)
|Niagara Falls (Canada)
|Buenos Aires (Argentina)
You only need the Visa to show Homeland Security and Border Patrol at the airport before you leave the airport once you're in the country. After that, a passport will be your legal ID. You should start the Visa application process at least four months out.
You can only use the U.S. Dollar here and don't bring cash to East St. Louis. Even if you are going to the casino, it might be wise to just pay the high ATM fees so you don't have cash on you when you travel through the city.
You will get all four seasons here, so a coat is needed in the winter. Summers are muggy and hot with thunderstorms being quite common. A raincoat is advised. To explore the outdoors, you don't have any mountains to go over, but there are some hilly or rocky areas and let's not forget the caverns to explore in this region. Bring shoes that can get a firm grip on slippery rocks or mud.
St. Louis Lambert International Airport is less than 16 miles from East St. Louis. That's the largest airport in the St. Louis Area. MidAmerica Airport is about 25 miles east, but it's a much smaller airport.
You'll want travel insurance to St. Louis as the weather can delay flights during any season.
East St Louis Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
|Temperature / Month
Illinois - Safety by City
|East St Louis