DETROIT - In another blow to the Motor City's tarnished image, Detroit pushed past St. Louis to become the nation's most dangerous city, according to a private research group's controversial analysis, released yesterday, of annual FBI crime statistics.

Camden, ranked most dangerous in 2004 and 2005, repeated its ranking of fifth from last year. Philadelphia, whose homicide rate is tops among the country's 10 largest cities, moved up to 21st on the most dangerous list, from 29th last year. Newark, N.J., was ranked 20th.

The study ranked Mission Viejo, Calif., as the safest U.S. city, followed by Clarkstown, N.Y.; Brick Township, N.J.; Amherst, N.Y.; and Sugarland, Texas. Brick fell from first last year.

Among metropolitan areas, which include the city and suburbs, State College, Pa., was ranked as the third-safest area, behind Logan, Utah, and Eau Claire, Wis.

The study drew harsh criticism even before it came out. The American Society of Criminology launched a preemptive strike Friday, issuing a statement attacking it as "an irresponsible misuse" of crime data.

The 14th annual "City Crime Rankings: Crime in Metropolitan America" was published by CQ Press, a unit of Congressional Quarterly Inc. It is based on the FBI's Sept. 24 crime statistics report.

The report looked at 378 cities with at least 75,000 people based on per-capita rates for homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft. Each crime category was considered separately and weighted based on its seriousness, CQ Press said.

Last year's crime leader, St. Louis, fell to No. 2. Another Michigan city, Flint, ranked third, followed by Oakland Calif.

Detroit was pegged the nation's murder capital in the 1980s and has lost nearly a million people since 1950, according to the Census Bureau. Downtown sports stadiums and corporate headquarters - along with the redevelopment of the riverfront of this city of 919,000 - have slowed but not reversed the decline. Officials have said crime reports don't help.

Detroit's police chief yesterday disputed the report.

"Every year this organization sends out a press release with big, bold lettering that labels a certain city as Most Dangerous, USA," Ella Bully-Cummings said in a statement.

"It really makes you wonder if the organization is truly concerned with evaluating crime or increasing their profit," said Bully-Cummings, who noted the complete report is available only by purchase.

Doug Goldenberg-Hart, acquisitions editor at CQ Press, said while the rankings are imperfect, the numbers are straightforward. Cities at the top of the list would not be there unless they ranked poorly in all six crime categories, he said.

"The idea that people oppose it, it's kind of blaming the messenger," Goldenberg-Hart said.

Inquirer staff writer Jeff Shields contributed to this article.