Tampa, sometimes referred to as The Big Guava or Cigar City, is a beautiful city. The towering skyscrapers, the sparkling waters of Tampa Bay, and the endless opportunities for fun make this city one of Florida’s best – but some may worry about violence or crime. So is Tampa actually safe for tourists?
Tampa is quite safe for tourists. The city actually has a crime rate that is below the national average. So when you come to Tampa, you’re not terribly likely to be the victim of a crime, especially if you follow basic safety rules like being aware of your surroundings.
So is violent crime a problem in Tampa? Are there areas to avoid or places not to leave your car? Is it safe for women and families? Throughout the following sections, you’ll find the answers to these questions and more.
Crime and Safety in Tampa
Florida is often in the news for zany news stories featuring “Florida Man.” Tampa, and the broader Tampa Bay area, often feature heavily in these popular and well-publicized news stories. It might be enough to make some people wonder whether it’s safe to travel to Florida at all.
While sensational stories of the adventures of Florida Man might make for entertaining reading, they’re not actually informative.
Tampa is a big city in a big metro area with a lot of people. Like any area where hundreds of thousands of people mix and mingle, there’s going to be crime, but breathless reporting on this or that major crime is not really meaningful. So to determine how safe Tampa is for tourists, we’re going to examine real-life facts and data and put them in context.
Tampa Crime Statistics
Like any major city, Tampa does have crime. However, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system, Tampa has an overall rate of crime that is below the national average. The average American city has a crime rate of about 2,346 crimes per 100,000 people, or about 2.3%. Tampa’s overall crime rate is about 1,885 crimes per 100,000 people, or about 1.9%.
What kind of crime happens in Tampa? Theft is a prevalent crime in Tampa, followed by assault, vehicle theft, and burglary. Less common but more sensational crimes include homicide and commercial robbery. Let’s talk about the various kinds of crime in Tampa.
Image from Tampa Police Department’s LexisNexis Crime Map.
Theft is often a crime of opportunity. Small-time street criminals have no problem grabbing a phone or a wallet from a distracted bar patron or tourist who just put it down for a second. Likewise, an unlocked car with a purse on the front seat is a hard target to pass up for a basic criminal.
Phenomenal Florida Fun Fact: The Tampa Police Department has almost 1,000 sworn officers.
However, there is a fair amount of organized theft in Florida, and Tampa is not immune to this crime. Rings of criminals will steal from retail stores, warehouses, docks, and businesses and then fence their stolen goods for a handsome profit.
A popular organized crime tactic is to steal credit card information at gas stations by installing card skimmers. Other crime rings will use gift cards in elaborate schemes to defraud people. Modern thieves are cunning, if nothing else.
Preventing Theft in Tampa:
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Keep your personal possessions like your keys and wallet on your person at all times.
- Don’t lay phones, wallets, or other valuables out on tables or bartops.
- Lock your vehicle and keep valuable possessions out of sight.
- If staying in a hotel room, leave valuables in your room’s safe.
- Avoid sketchy gas stations, and always check the pump’s card reader.
Vehicle theft is also a crime of opportunity. Time is the enemy of a car thief, so they prefer easy targets such as unlocked cars. A car with the keys on the dash, in the center console, or (heaven forbid) in the ignition is a plump and juicy target for a car theft. According to the Tampa Police Department, many auto thefts happen when people leave their cars idling and unattended at gas pumps, daycares, banks, convenience stores, and other stops.
Preventing Vehicle Theft:
- Lock your vehicle and under no circumstances leave the keys anywhere in your car.
- Park in well-lighted areas.
- Park in attended lots or garages as able.
- Activate anti-theft devices or alarms.
Of course, you can also avoid the risk by not having a vehicle at all. Tampa is full of ride-share drivers for services like Uber and Lyft, and has a wide assortment of safe and reliable taxi services available.
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As a tourist, you probably don’t have to worry about burglary. Burglars are generally going to go for easy targets like residential homes that are unlocked or poorly secured or businesses with desirable and easily fenced goods such as electronics or weapons. If you’re staying at a reputable hotel or an Airbnb in a good neighborhood, your risk is probably relatively low.
However, AirBnBs and hotels can be burglarized just like any other place. Here are some easy safety tips you can follow to minimize your risk:
- Don’t tell people where you’re staying. That friendly stranger at the bar or the sports game might just be a burglar gathering info – and contrary to what we see on TV, most criminals look like regular people.
- Always lock your room or rental unit, keep window shades down, and keep valuables out of plain sight.
- If staying in a rental home or Airbnb, familiarize yourself with the locks at all points of entry.
- Be alert for any suspicious or uncommon activity around your lodgings, and trust your gut.
You may also wish to stay at a higher-end hotel or lodging. However, while bargain motels offer attractive rates, they tend to attract unsavory characters for that exact reason, which can increase your overall risk.
You might think Tampa is a violent city, and some crime numbers show high rates of assault in Tampa. However, assault is rarely a crime where one random stranger attacks another out of the blue. Instead, one of the most significant risks for assault is alcohol: intoxicated people are volatile, and they can be especially volatile after a big event like a concert or a sports game.
To minimize your risk:
- Learn some basic conflict de-escalation techniques.
- Be non-threatening.
- Avoid accusatory or inflammatory language and gestures.
- Try talking to someone – asking their name can be an excellent way to change a threatening situation into a more friendly one.
Worse than assault is murder. Murder gets a lot of publicity because it is scary. However, most murders are not random acts of violence: they involve people who know one another and are usually driven by traditional factors like jealousy, greed, or anger. Your chances of being a murder victim as a tourist in Tampa are very, very, very low.
Avoid Becoming a Victim of Violent Crime:
- Be watchful of your surroundings and trust your gut.
- Be wary of rowdy guests or escalating tensions in alcohol-centered environments such as bars or clubs.
- Don’t escalate or engage in conflict.
- Don’t accept unsolicited goods or services, such as rides, smokes, drinks, or food, from strangers. This is especially true for women.
- Do not try to buy drugs or any other black-market goods.
There are occasional armed robberies in Tampa – but like many crimes, you can minimize your personal risk by following a few common-sense safety guidelines.
- Be alert and aware of your surroundings. Don’t be distracted by your phone.
- Don’t flash high-end goods, valuables, or cash.
- Stay in well-populated, well-lit areas. Do not wander the streets at 3 AM.
- Trust your gut. If something feels wrong, leave.
Is Downtown Tampa Safe at Night?
Downtown Tampa is a safe place at night. Not to sound like a broken record, but simply being aware of your surroundings is key to avoiding trouble. Stay in well-traveled and well-lit areas.
Be wary of inebriated bar patrons late at night. If you see something that causes you to feel uneasy, listen to your gut and leave.
What Part of Tampa is Best to Stay In?
Some of the safest areas in Tampa are just on the outskirts of downtown. The Channelside district, known as a ritzier and more posh neighborhood, is a very safe and classy place to stay, and it is conveniently located near many of Tampa’s finest attractions. That said, Channelside can be a bit pricey.
Other safe locations in Tampa to stay in are the South Tampa area and the area around the Tampa International Airport.
Is the Tampa Riverwalk Safe at Night?
The Tampa Riverwalk is safe at night. A nighttime stroll down the riverwalk can actually be quite an enjoyable experience. So many people enjoy taking pictures at night, seeing the city lights, and experiencing the different ambiance that permeates the air at night. But, of course, just like in any other situation, the key to safety is to be alert and aware of your surroundings.
Tampa: Safe and Sound
Like any other major city, Tampa has some crime. There are robbers, thieves, and other crooks among the throngs of everyday Floridians. But that’s the case in any city, whether you go to Miami, San Francisco, or even Omaha. While Tampa has some crime, the crime rate in our fine city is actually below average.
Tampa has so much to offer and so many things to do that you’ll probably never want to leave once you come to visit. Don’t let fear win the day! Book your flight or plan your drive and come on down to Cigar City. We’ll have a cafecito and a guava pastry waiting for you.