Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design

August 08, 2017

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design

by Ian D Scofield

Out of the many different criminal justice theories/practices, one that I have always believed in was Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).  Many different agencies and companies have started to implement CPTED practices when designing new buildings, parks, and city facilities.  Becoming familiar with CPTED can be a great way to assist your department and possibly move up.  Let’s take a look at what Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design is and how you can use it.

What Is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design?

Crime Through Environmental Design is a pretty thorough name for the practice that it describes.  It involves preventing criminal activity at facilities, parks, and buildings through the design of the environment.  Roles like Natural Surveillance, Natural Access Control, and Defensible Places are important to the theory.

A great example of CPTED is planning a main lobby so that a security desk is clearly visible and that the officers are able to see everything that is happening on the lobby.  You can’t enter without security and others seeing you, and there are not any points at which security can’t see you.

Creating natural security and safety measures while you are designing your project is a key part of CPTED.  Clear views are a key part of a CPTED approved design.

Natural Surveillance

Remember how we mentioned that CPTED relies heavily on clear views.  This is the natural surveillance part.  The main point of natural surveillance is being able to deter criminals that attempt to use the environment for concealment and cover.  This is especially prudent in areas with frequent problems.

You can utilize lighting, fencing, windows, landscaping, and even roadways as a way to provide natural surveillance.

Another key thing to remember is surveillance in CPTED doesn’t just mean law enforcement or security.  It also includes business owners, vendors, and even your average person walking down the street.

Natural Access Control

When we talk about natural access control we are discussing controlling where people enter and exit a design.  For example, funneling traffic into one point forces people to walk right past witnesses.  In addition to that, criminals often won’t strike an area that only has one access point, it limits their possibility for fleeing.

Keeping restrooms in a central place is a good example of this.  If restrooms are placed away from other people, it leaves them vulnerable to criminal activity.  Lighting entrances and exits well helps to create access control as you can easily see who is coming and going.

There are two things to consider when you are dealing with natural access control.  You don’t want to inhibit police response times.  Second, you don’t want to create a point where peopled are unable to escape during an emergency.

Defensible Places

Creating a safe and well cared for place is an important part of CPTED.  That means that any design is only as good as its maintenance.  Cleaning up graffiti, picking up trash, and more sends the message to any potential perpetrators that your community is mindful and protected.  Unkempt locations send the message that there is no one there to protect the facility and that no one cares.

Anything that shows that the community is watching also works to create defensible places.  Human points such as porches, patios, and balconies provide the community with the impression that people are watching and care.  Obvious video surveillance also helps to show that the community is monitored.

You should also have clear indications when you are moving between areas that are public and private. 

How Can You Use CPTED?

There are many different ways that you can utilize CPTED.  One of those ways is to be a liaison between the police department and the city.  Working with your department and other city officials you can become trained in CPTED and give input when the city (or even the department) is designing new facilities.  Just think about it, if you were a city, who would you turn to for security and safety advice, the police department.

CPTED is great for law enforcement officers that want to find a way to link their job with the community.  Crime prevention reduces the number of victims that are created and CPTED is a great way to apply crime prevention with the public.

You can also use CPTED as a career builder for after you leave the agency you work with.  Many companies are looking to hire security advisors/surveyors.  It is never too early to start thinking about retirement.

I hope you have found this very brief introduction into Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design helpful.  If you did enjoy it, I encourage you to look into it further.  There are plenty of resources available on the internet to engage in further CPTED learning.  Stay safe out there!

About the author:

Ian graduated Seattle University with a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice with a Specialization in Administration of Justice. He has held positions as an Auxiliary Public Safety Officer, a Security Patrol Supervisor, and as an in-house security officer for a major medical center. Through all of this he has picked up a wealth of experience, training, and education that he is happy to pass on to others. Ian can be reached at

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