Missouri : Safety by City
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Rolla, Missouri, is nestled in heart of Ozark Country, halfway between St. Louis and Springfield.
It’s a small town with a big reputation for its engineering school, the Missouri University of Science and Technology.
The town is also popular for its Route 66 history, and one of the first signs you’ll see approaching the Rolla exit is for the Totem Pole Trading Post, which has been in business since 1933.
For those driving to Rolla along I-44, you have several more places to visit on the famed route if you’d like within an hour of this town.
Rolla is also on the northwest side of Mark Twain National Forest and just 90 minutes from Lake of the Ozarks to the northwest.
For those who are fans of the show Ozark, it was set in the Lake of the Ozarks, but the Ozarks region actually spans much of southern Missouri and into Arkansas.
Sorry to say, fans, the Ozark house isn’t even in Missouri – Marty Byrd and family were actually filming those scenes in Georgia.
In addition to the college crowd here, you might also see some military members as Fort Leonardwood is just 33 miles down the interstate.
St. Patrick’s Day in Rolla is about as festive as you’ll find in small-town America, with a 12-day event that has been going since 1908.
Everyone in Missouri knows that Rolla is the place to be for this holiday, and the energy is palpable as the university students celebrate the Patron Saint of Engineering.
Warnings & Dangers in Rolla
OVERALL RISK: MEDIUM
Rolla is edging toward a medium risk with some shockingly high crime rates for a town known for its prestigious engineering school. You'll still have plenty of great reasons to visit, but there's an edge to this city.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
As of late 2022, the city was still working on the possibility of a public transportation system, but until then, you'll need a car or rely on taxis/rideshares.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
Three pickpockets were reported in 2021, while the 10-year average is two pickpockets or purse snatchings a year. That's a low risk, but you'll need to use extra caution during the large St. Pat's Day celebration.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: LOW
Rolla gets all the risks of a Midwestern city—severe storms, tornadoes, flooding, snow, sleet, and hail. There's an earthquake risk too, but that's more centered in eastern Missouri.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
The robbery rates here range from 3 to 10 robberies a year, with 2022 having six robberies. Just one of those was in a public place, giving this a low risk.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
The military base at Fort Leonardwood elevates the risk a bit, but there's no overwhelming concern here in a small town surrounded by wilderness.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
140 cases of fraud were reported in 2022, with swindles being the top category. Keep in mind that this includes reports from emails, texts, and phone scams focused on residents, not scammers on the street. Using common sense and avoiding "get rich quick" schemes will go a long way in any U.S. city.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
Women definitely want to follow basic bar safety standards for protecting their drinks from being drugged or venturing alone while intoxicated, but overall there's a low risk here.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows a violation because the utility didn't post the report in the required time frame (end of June each year), but other than that, the water passed all standards and requirements.
Safest Places to Visit in Rolla
Visit Rolla is the official tourism website for the city.
If you want to learn about St. Patrick’s Day, visit the University of Missouri School of Science & Technology (Missouri S&T), or search for “The Annual Best Ever St. Pat’s.”
The website VisitMO.com is the official tourism site for the state.
Underneath this portion of Missouri, there’s a vast cave system and groundwater streams.
That means the geology is epic. At Missouri S&T, you can visit the Mineral Collection with items once on display at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
The collection now includes nearly 5,000 items from nearly 100 countries.
The experimental mine is also open to the public at the Kennedy Experimental Mine Building.
Students here learn to blast through bedrock and search debris for artifacts or gems.
If you want to take a tour, call (573)341-4753 to see was options are available during your visit.
The Phelps County Historical Society is right across the street from the courthouse in Rolla.
You can take a tour of the museum to get a general overview of the history and then check out the historical buildings nearby, from a limestone block jail to a log house all the way back from 1838.
Take Exit 184 and head to the big Totem Pole sign to visit the Route 66 symbol of Rolla.
The fine folks there will help you find other hidden Route 66 treasures in town and the area.
Some cities on Route 66 have renovated the historic markers, while others have been left to decay but still are worth a drive-by for those nostalgic for that era.
Mark Twain National Forest covers over one million acres starting about 30 minutes from Rolla.
The forest is under the purview of the Forest Service, but within that region is the Ozark National Scenic Riverway which is under the umbrella of the National Park Service.
If you can legally do it outdoors, it can be done here.
Kayak rentals are available in the park, and the forest is thick with trails while lakes dot the landscape.
Guided tours are also available through the park service.
Places to Avoid in Rolla
The northeast side of the city has the highest overall crime rates, but most of the hotels are grouped to the southwest side of the city.
The only downside to choosing a hotel here is that 99% of them are located on a major interstate.
Be sure to use Google Maps to zoom in and find one that isn’t directly facing the interstate.
This is more of a heads-up than a “place to avoid” warning, but anyone visiting this region before the end of 2024 needs to know about a major construction project in I-44 between Cuba (MO) and Rolla.
Apparently, the disruption was so bad that 911 was overwhelmed with calls from residents complaining.
The Rolla Police Department posted on their Facebook page, “Please do not call 9-1-1 or the non-emergency phone number to make complaints about the road construction.
Our Emergency Communications Officers need to be able to focus on actual emergencies.
Yesterday we were flooded with complaints, and we really need to keep phone lines open for emergencies.
This is a MoDOT project, and any questions/concerns about the actual construction project should be directed to them.”
Don’t look for Mark Twain Lake in the Mark Twain National Forest.
The lake is about 150 miles north of the forest, though they are plenty of lakes to explore in the national forest.
Avoid the caves in the national forest and parks unless you have expressly been told they are open.
Many were closed due to White Nose Syndrome, which impacts bats but doesn’t impact people.
Since this is federally protected land, you must follow the guidance.
The park service website will list the caves that are open and which ones have guided tours.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Rolla
- The RPD Facebook page is @Rollamopolice, and it’s a wealth of information from safety tips to road closures to “be on the lookout for this criminal” posts. The department also posts a daily crime log, so you can see crime trends closer to your visit.
- You need to stay on top of the weather here, and the best way to do that is by signing up for emergency alerts through Everbridge. There’s a link on the department’s website to get you to the right website.
- The department also has an “RPD INFO PORTAL” where you can submit a crime tip or file a complaint (or compliment an officer). This is a great way to share your experience or help with criminal activity during your visit. Just don’t complain about the construction.
- If you notice a credit card is lost or assumed stolen, let the police know as soon as possible. Through a Merchant Warning System, they can alert other businesses in the city about it, which could prevent any fraudulent charges on your card.
- The department also offers a Senior Alert program, which is helpful for any elderly people visiting Rolla. You can call the main line of the police department for information at (573) 308-1213.
- If you like deep dives into disaster planning, the Emergency Operations Plan is a great read. It covers all the risks – from weather to terrorism – that could happen in the community and details the safety plan. This resource is great if you’re visiting from a place that doesn’t get tornadoes or winter weather.
- Use the USDA Forest Service website to get maps of Mark Twain National Forest, or else you’ll be overwhelmed with options. A fee is charged for visitors, and there are higher fees for activities like riding ATVs. Each section of the park has a district, and the park is not one giant space. It’s broken up by those districts physically too.
- Use the NPS app if you’re heading to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. You’ll get maps, safety guidance, alerts, and updates on road/trail conditions. The app also offers a downloadable map that works with GPS in case you get out of mobile phone range. Follow @Ozarkriverways on Facebook to get updated information. There is no fee to enter the NPS territory.
- Anglers need a fishing license from the Missouri Department of Conservation. Licenses are available by the day up to being valid through a full year. It’s illegal to fish without a license here, and certain species of fish can only be caught in certain seasons.
- You might smell the fire in this region, and that can be concerning. The first thing you should do is check the local and park social media sites to see if there are prescribed burns.
So... How Safe Is Rolla Really?
Rolla has a violent crime rate that is 30% higher than the national average.
The 2022 data shows violent crime in the city was 14% year to year, fueled by an increase in aggravated assaults but lowered by a decrease in robberies.
18% of aggravated assaults involved a stranger, but the context of that could be anything from a drug deal gone bad to a bar fight.
The theft rates are twice the national average, but 35% of those are shoplifting reports.
One thing to be aware of as a tourist is that 30% of the thefts are car break-ins, so you’ll want to be vigilant about locking car doors and removing personal items.
The city had four homicides between 2011 and 2022, but 2023 had another homicide report in the first three months of the year.
Nothing about that rate should be concerning to tourists.
The location on I-44, which is a major interstate, can bring a lot of transient traffic.
If you are eating or staying along the highway, just use common sense and situational awareness to keep an eye on your stuff.
You’ll see a lot of truckers here too, and just avoid the areas where they rest in case there’s any suspicious activity like drugs or prostitution.
How Does Rolla Compare?
|Hong Kong (China)
Anyone visiting from outside the U.S. should have a passport and a visa designated for their purpose of travel. Research this early because a student visa will not take as long as a tourism visa. The U.S. State Department has a great Visa Wizard module to guide you through the right one for you.
You can only use the U.S. Dollar here, and it's smart to put as much on a credit card as possible since they offer the best fraud protection.
The Midwest gets so many fluctuating temperatures throughout the year that it's hard to know what season it is if you aren't looking at a calendar. Bring various layers of clothing throughout the year, except in summer, when you can reliably go without a coat. During hunting season, many people here will wear camouflage, so feel free to bring all your casual clothing. You'll need bug spray because Missouri is humid.
The largest commercial airport to Rolla is St. Louis Lambert International (STL), which will take you two hours.
Travel insurance for your flight and rental car is important since you'll need to drive a distance to get to Rolla if you manage to avoid weather delays. This area is too prone to severe weather to risk travel without insurance, or else you could risk losing your travel investment.
Rolla Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Missouri - Safety by City