Michigan : Safety by City
- Ann Arbor
- Battle Creek
- Farmington Hills
- Flat Rock
- Glen Arbor
- Grand Rapids
- Mackinac Island
- Mackinaw City
- Port Huron
- Sault Ste. Marie
- Sterling Heights
- Traverse City
You can’t help but root for Pontiac, Michigan, once a dynamic auto manufacturer with a brand of cars named after it.
Pontiac, the city, has been in a spiral since Pontiac, the brand, was discontinued.
A historical fact for you – Pontiac comes from the name of a Native American War Chief.
This city of 60,000 people has lost 30% of its population since the 1970s.
The poverty rate looms near 28%, and the average income is just over $36,000.
The real tragedy is that Pontiac is located in Oakland County, which is one of the most affluent counties in the state, with an overall poverty rate of just under 8% and an average income of $86,000.
Nevertheless, Pontiac is trying. While parts of the infrastructure, law enforcement, and public works have been dished out to the county or surrounding cities and townships, there’s a concerted effort to revive this struggling community.
Visting Pontiac, Michigan, is still worth it.
Whether you’re longing for the days of driving your Pontiac car down the highway or learning more about the historical rise and fall and rebuilding of the city, some museums and attractions can help soothe your inner soul.
The bulk of hotels can be found just to the east of Pontiac in Auburn Hills.
It’s the largest gathering of overnight accommodations, with nearby Troy being the next best option.
Warnings & Dangers in Pontiac
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
This city has a solid medium risk for tourists. The violent crime rate is nearly four times the national average. Pontiac is also known for gang wars, illegal guns connected to Russia, and drug dealers. While the average tourist won't face an imminent risk, as just 25% of violent crimes happen against strangers, it's certainly a place you should enjoy during the day and only in certain parts of the community. It's not to be missed but also not to be messed with at night.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
Pontiac has stops on the SMART bus system, which services suburban Detroit and doesn't go directly into Detroit. You can take a SMART bus to a D-DOT (Detroit bus system) stop. Taxis, rideshares, and rental cars are widely available. In the spirit of transparency and not sensationalism - a high-profile story in 2022 involved a Lyft driver being shot in her own vehicle.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
Just six pickpockets were reported in 2021, which is a low risk, but 36% of all thefts were car break-ins, so you need to watch your wallet/purse AND your car while practicing smart safety advice.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : LOW
The Detroit area gets the worst of all seasons, from blizzards to ice storms to severe thunderstorms to tornadoes. All the risks come with plenty of warning and safety prep advice, with Oakland County Emergency Management offering a "Prepare for Emergencies" website section. Watch out for bitterly cold winter temperatures and extreme summer heat patterns.
MUGGING RISK : MEDIUM
The risk is medium, with a robbery rate higher than the national average. The larger concern is the aggravated assault rate which is nearly 3.5 times higher than the national average. An armed robbery can quickly turn into an aggravated assault. If you happen to face a robber here, don't fight back; aim to be the best witness possible.
TERRORISM RISK : MEDIUM
The real terrorists of Pontiac are the gangs that haunt the streets. A 2022 Detroit News article documented a trend of Russian pistols that can be modified as automatic machine guns. Would you be a direct target? No. Would the gangs care if you got caught in the crossfire of the gang war? Also no. Then there's the medium risk Detroit as a whole experiences being a large city with major industries. Yes, there's a lot of Homeland Security protection, but the best thing a tourist can do is report any suspicious activity.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Pontiac's scam concerns range from those that target elderly people by scammers posing as health department officials to retail and credit card theft. Since this is such a poverty-stricken community, you should be vigilant against any attempt to get personal information or credit card numbers. Report any suspicious activity to the police.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Females are slightly less likely to be victims of a violent crime, according to 2021 data. The sexual assault rate has gone down 40% in the past decade. It's not a city you should be walking around alone, and it's best to avoid even driving through the surface streets at night. Use a medium risk, but know that the biggest concern is a random act of violence.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
In an attempt to cut costs, Pontiac contracted out water treatment to Oakland County. The better-funded county can provide better water, so it's a win for visitors. The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. The report also shows now PFAS readings.
Safest Places to Visit in Pontiac
Pontiac doesn’t have its own tourism website, and finding things to do here will be a bit challenging if you don’t know where to look.
Luckily, you have us! Pure Michigan is the tourism bureau of the state, with details on the different regions.
Visit Detroit offers a county-by-county breakdown (Pontiac is in Oakland County), so you can see individual cities plus nearby attractions.
NOTES: DO NOT use VisitPontiac.org, as that takes you to Pontiac, Illinois, which is 350 miles west in a rural part of the Land of Lincoln.
Watch out for a search of Oakland County to mistakenly take you to Oakland, California, which is in Alameda County.
The Oakland History Center at Pine Grove is more than a museum.
It offers five acres of outdoor space to explore, with historical buildings along the way:
- Wisner Mansion
- Drayton Plains One-Room Schoolhouse
- Pioneer Museum
- Research Library
You can walk the property anytime, but the Pioneer Museum is open from Tuesday through Thursday during the day.
Don’t miss the Victorian Christmas celebration if you’re here during the holidays.
Pontiac Transportation Museum is a work in progress to honor the legacy of the cars that fell under the General Motors umbrella.
I can’t help but be a little nostalgic right now about my high school boyfriend and his Trans Am.
The museum is scheduled to open fully in mid-2023, but that deadline has been moved several times.
In the meantime, visit @pontiactransporationmusem on Instagram to find local events and what part of the museum is open during your trip.
NOTE: There is the Pontiac Oakland Auto Museum, but it’s in Pontiac, Illinois, so don’t get those two confused. The one in Pontiac, Michigan, is specifically called Pontiac Transportation Museum. Why is there one in Illinois? It’s along Route 66, a highway known for hot rods and history.
One of the newest museums in Pontiac is the Doll & Toy Museum.
It opened in 2021.
There’s a Barbie room with 300 versions of the doll among all the toys.
Displays are for viewing, but there are some items for sale.
The museum is open from Tuesdays through Saturdays.
That museum is on Main Street, in the historic downtown area.
There’s a grassroots effort to revitalize downtown, and you can learn more about what’s happening and the different shopping and restaurant options at mainstreetpontiac.org.
More than 100 businesses are open, and that number increases each year.
What’s especially impressive is that this area experienced decades of abandonment and blight, and a core group of residents simply won’t give up, using the motto “Pontiac Never Dies.”
Look for special events like farmer’s markets, art walks, and a Halloween celebration of #Hauntiac.
Places to Avoid in Pontiac
Pontiac has major roads and highways to take you in all directions, and it’s best to stay on those roads and avoid the neighborhood streets.
One known gang territory is west of Auburn Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard.
That’s also an area where a visitor would have no reason to be if they weren’t visiting a friend or family member who lived there.
The paradox of Oakland County being so affluent and Pontiac being so poor should be noted by anyone looking to visit this region.
The county communities off of I-696 are much safer than Pontiac.
Don’t avoid this city, but stick to the main places to visit and try to do so during the daytime.
One thing to pay particular attention to in Detroit and Pontiac – watch out for people following you and pay attention to other cars on the road.
The city has seen too many random shootings on the highway, and in 2022 a 7-year-old Pontiac child was killed in a drive-by shooting after the suspects followed her family home from the bus stop.
“All too often, we see gang members seeking to perpetrate violence against rivals strike innocent victims in the process,” Sheriff Michael Bouchard said in a news release.
“This is completely unacceptable, and the tragic loss of this child will not be tolerated.
If you carry or use a gun illegally in furtherance of criminal activity, we are coming for you.”
Safety Tips for Traveling to Pontiac
- Pontiac hasn’t had its own police department since the early 2010s, and the Oakland County Sheriff oversees law enforcement here (and in 11 other townships/cities).
- Oakland Sheriff’s Office now has a mobile app to report criminal activity, file a police report, and read the latest news updates. This app helps you connect directly to the police while traveling through the county.
- Oakland County offers Oak Alert, a free emergency notification system through the CodeRED platform. Since the weather can change quickly here, you need to know as soon as watches or warnings are issued and be alerted to safety risks or storm damage. These alerts will also cover criminal activity impacting public or civil emergencies.
- The sheriff’s office also has a podcast filled with safety advice, covering everything from boating safety to distracted driving to senior safety.
- Pontiac has eight large parks and 22 smaller neighborhood parks. Given the high crime rates here, it’s wise to enjoy one of the larger regional Metroparks. Bald Mountain Recreation Area is just eight miles from Pontiac and offers the most rugged landscape you can find in an otherwise relatively flat state. The park offers activities for every season and has one of the best-rated beaches at Lower Trout Lake.
- The roads can be pretty rough in Pontiac, so use the Request for Action page on the city’s website to report potholes, debris, and storm damage.
- Pontiac’s traffic troubles center around a one-way road called Woodward Loop. It circles the downtown area, and it is outdated and unwelcoming to pedestrians and bicyclists. A major construction project will be underway through at least 2025 to reimagine the roadway and include safer spaces for walkers, bikers, and vehicles. In the meantime, that’s gonna be one helluva traffic nightmare.
- Most cities and counties in the Detroit metro region will have specific parking bans during winter weather. To avoid remembering the different rules, use a parking garage or lot. This way, you don’t have to move your car, risk getting towed, or face a fine for parking at the wrong time.
- Oakland County uses FastTrac mapping to show traffic delays, construction, and road closures. You can get a better view of the metro area by using Mi Drive, a state website that offers the same information but on a larger and more interactive scale.
- Anglers and hunters need specific permits and licenses to participate in those activities anywhere in Michigan, even in the smaller towns. The Department of Natural Resources has all that information on its website.
So... How Safe Is Pontiac Really?
Whether you see Pontiac as a city that lost so much or has a lot of hope, there’s the reality that this city is dangerous.
Now, if you’re from the city of Chicago or St. Louis, you might not be too worried.
Pontiac also isn’t the most dangerous in Detroit, but Detroit has some very dangerous cities and neighborhoods.
To give some contact, the average violent crime rate in America is 300 crimes per 100,000 people.
In Pontiac, that number is 1,558 per 100,000.
25% of violent crimes happened against strangers in 2021, which means the risk of being a direct target is low as long as you aren’t flaunting a lot of cash, expensive items, or looking for illegal drugs.
“It’s not the average person in Pontiac that is being targeted just coming and going to work or school or a business,” said Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard.
“It’s very specific, bad drug deal or somebody that has animosity.
So those are harder to get in front of because they’re personal.”
Woodward Avenue is known for having an abundance of panhandlers, some even tech-savvy enough to accept credit cards.
If you are inclined to donate, choose a shelter or charity – not someone on the street.
You also don’t want to signal that you have cash on you, as that could lead to a higher risk of being a target.
As long as you are staying on the main roads and highways of Pontiac and sticking to the parts of town we talked about in this article, you can enjoy the unique opportunities here.
You must have excellent situational awareness, street smarts, and common sense.
How Does Pontiac Compare?
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- Visas - A visa or visa waiver will be required to cross the border from Canada or enter Detroit through Customs at the airport. You should start the process early as travel visas are backlogged, even though the State Department promises to speed up the process going forward.
- Currency - The U.S. Dollar is the only currency you can use here, and if you're heading into Canada, you can only use the Canadian Dollar there. Duty-Free shops are a good choice for exchanging currency, but you'll get the best value if you do it before you leave home.
- Weather - You want casual, warm clothing for winter, as windchills can easily get below 0°(F). Spring and fall can dramatically swing in temperatures, so mix some sweatshirts, t-shirts, jeans, and pants for various options. Summers will be hot and humid. You need bug spray and more bug spray.
- Airports - Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport looks a lot closer on the map than it is. It will take about 45 minutes to get there (without traffic). If you use public transportation, it will take up to three hours, so opt for a rideshare or taxi instead.
- Travel Insurance - Detroit's airport is one of the best for on-time arrivals and departures, but unpredictable weather patterns can easily cause delays or cancelations. Travel insurance gives you peace of mind through any weather event.
Pontiac Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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