What is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design?

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We recently had the opportunity to create a guide and reference for property owners and community stakeholders to use as an aid in understanding the concepts and strategies that can be used to improve security and the quality of life in their neighborhoods. During that process, we researched the concept of CPTED, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, an approach that considers environmental conditions and the opportunities they offer for crime or other unintended and undesirable behaviors.

CPTED is different from other crime prevention or security measures because it specifically focuses on aspects of the design, while the other measures tend to be directed at target hardening by denying access to a target using locks and bars, using sensors and cameras to detect and identify an offender, or deploying security guards. CPTED is unusual also when compared to some police activities, because CPTED encourages prevention and considers design and place, while policing has traditionally focused on efficient and effective response to incidents and the identification and apprehension of offenders.

CPTED is intended to specifically enhance the appearance and design of a facility, business, neighborhood, or residence in order to provide and present the appearance of significant guardianship. CPTED attempts to reduce or eliminate those opportunities by using elements of the environment to:

  • Control access.
  • Provide opportunities to see and be seen.
  • Define ownership and encourage the maintenance of territory.

Crime prevention through environmental design is a relatively new term, but the use of design for safety and security is not. Caves, cliff dwellings, castles, and moats are historical examples of the use of natural features for protection. As an example, requirements for street lighting grew out of a need to distinguish legitimate travelers from outlaws and thieves during a time before the protection afforded by automobiles.

Contemporary approaches, including CPTED, emerged out of research on the relationship between crime and place, theories known variously as environmental criminology, situational crime prevention, rational choice theory, and routine activity theory, among others. Each theoretical approach focuses on considerations of how a criminal perceives and interacts with the environment in the planning, selection and decision-making related to committing a crime.

CPTED and associated theoretical research asks the question, “Why here?” Research has revealed that:

  1. Crime is specific and situational.
  2. The distribution of crimes is related to land use and transportation networks.
  3. Offenders are opportunistic and commit crimes in places they know well.
  4. Opportunity arises out of daily routines and activities.
  5. Places with crime are usually places without observers or guardians.

Crime prevention through environmental design examines crime problems and the ways in which various features of the environment afford opportunities for undesirable and unwanted behaviors. CPTED attempts to remove or reduce these opportunities by changing aspects of the building, site, location, and how the space may be used.

For more information on CPTED and its practical application in this situation, please contact us.


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Protus3 specializes in security system design, security consulting, corporate investigations and other investigative services. Partner with Protus3 and we will examine each situation to identify threats and develop solutions for your best outcome.

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