Crime prevention through environmental design

As crime rates skyrocket, Crime Prevention Practitioners and Law Enforcement Professionals look for many different ways to combat criminal activity.  One method gaining popularity and producing results in crime reduction is the Crime Prevention through Environmental Design or better known by its moniker CEPTED.

The CPTED concept

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, or CPTED (pronounced sep-ted), is a relatively new concept. The idea of using the physical environment as protection against attack may date back to the cavemen. However, it wasn’t until recently that the problem of creating a defensive environment was approached from both the physical and the psychological aspects at the same time. This blend of disciplines is the essence of the CPTED concept.

The goal of CPTED is the reduction of opportunities for crime to occur. This reduction is achieved by employing physical design features that discourage crime, while at the same time encouraging legitimate use of the environment.

CPTED also makes possible designs that offer protection without resorting to the prison camp approach to security. Use of fortress-type construction is minimized, and where necessary, integrated into the overall design, reducing negative visual impact. This approach is also cost-effective, since hardware applications are made during construction rather than added at a later date.

To understand fully how CPTED is used, one must examine its components and the philosophy behind them. Although crime prevention through design is itself relatively new, its individual elements are common security techniques. The uniqueness and success of CPTED stems from the manner in which these techniques are integrated with, and applied to, the architectural design process.

Defensible Space: To provide maximum control, an environment is first divided into smaller, clearly defined areas or zones. These zones become the focal points for the application of the various CPTED elements. “Defensible space” is the term used to describe an area that has been made a “zone of defense” by the design characteristics that create it.

Surveillance: Surveillance is the principal weapon in the protection of a defensible space. Criminals are least likely to act when there is a high risk of their actions being witnessed. Environments in which legitimate occupants can exercise a high degree of visual control increase the likelihood of criminal acts being observed and reported.

Lighting: Good lighting is one of the most effective crime deterrents. When used properly, light discourages criminal activity, enhances natural surveillance opportunities and reduces fear.

Landscaping: Landscaping design, like architectural design, plays a significant role in CPTED. Landscaping is versatile and can be used to perform a variety of design functions.

As a symbolic barrier, landscaping can mark the transition between zones. Features such as decorative fencing, flower beds, ground cover and varied patterns in cement work can clearly show separation between zones. If more substantial barriers are needed, shrubbery such as evergreen hedges can be used to create more formidable obstacles.

Another function of landscaping in crime prevention is aesthetics. Again, an attractive environment generates a sense of pride and ownership.

Physical Security: The problem with the physical security of most building projects lies in the fact that the people designing the systems don’t understand crime and criminals and how they work. The unfortunate result of this practice can be seen easily in soaring residential and commercial burglary rates.

Enlightened physical security planning can contribute considerably to the overall success of a project. The proper application of security hardware and the elimination of security weaknesses from a structural standpoint can have a significant impact on crime reduction.

As an element of CPTED, physical security planning is not intended to create an impenetrable fortress. The goal is merely to make penetration more difficult and time-consuming. Degree of difficulty and length of delay are key factors in reducing the probability that crime will occur.

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