It's only a slight improvement, but South Carolina has gone from the third-most-dangerous state in the nation to the fourth, according to the 2010 state crime rankings issued by Washington-based CQ Press.

The annual report, released Monday, compares the 50 states against the national average for six crimes: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft. CQ Press then indexes those rates to create a summary score and ranking for each state.

For the seventh year in a row. Nevada held onto its spot as the state with the highest crime rate.

New Mexico was the fourth-highest in 2009 but it moved to second place in 2010, pushing Louisiana and South Carolina down a notch.

CQ Press actually releases the report with states ranked from those considered the safest to the most dangerous. New Hampshire was the state with the lowest crime rate, followed by Vermont, North Dakota, Maine and Idaho.

Delaware saw the biggest increase in crime, jumping from 17th-most-dangerous state last year to seventh this year.

The states that saw the biggest improvements over the past year include Michigan and Alaska. Each dropped seven spots in the rankings.

The annual report from CQ Press is based on the FBI's uniform crime reporting statistics but uses a unique analysis and rating system that is routinely criticized by law enforcement agencies.

This year, the report's authors back away from the idea of using the report to describe a state as dangerous.

"In previous editions, the terms 'safest' and 'dangerous' were used to describe the states with lowest and highest rankings," states an explanatory document posted on the CQ Press Web site. "These terms are no longer used because perceptions of safety and danger are just that--perceptions," the document says.

For more information

The 2010 rankings from CQ press

Reach David W. MacDougall at macdougd@postandcourier.com or 937-5655.