6 reasons why CPTED should be part of every agency's crime-fighting plan

The multi-dimensional approach of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) eliminates design flaws that contribute to crime


When a series of sexual battery assaults occurred on a jogging path in a San Francisco park, strategies to prevent recurrence ranged from surveillance to decoy deployment. The most significant changes made in response to the assaults included improved lighting, landscaping and community awareness. Of course, police were not alone in addressing the problem; a multi-disciplinary approach included the community, the Parks and Recreation Department and the Public Utilities Street Lighting Department. Although no arrests were made, there were no new incidents reported after changes were made to the area.

What is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)?

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) has been in existence for nearly 50 years, becoming institutionalized at a multitude of law enforcement agencies worldwide.

Some locations may contribute to crime, whether through flawed design or by a lack of maintenance, access control, outward territorial reinforcement and natural surveillance. (Photo/Pixabay)
Some locations may contribute to crime, whether through flawed design or by a lack of maintenance, access control, outward territorial reinforcement and natural surveillance. (Photo/Pixabay)

Personally, I embraced the concept in the mid-1980s and have seen a few training iterations. I practiced the tenets over my policing career, and I teach the concepts of CPTED today to criminal justice students. In July 2019 I attended a CPTED refresher in the form of the 40-hour CPTED Basic Training Course presented by Art Hushen, President of the National Institute of Crime Prevention (NICP), at a training site in Los Angeles, California.

Hushen, a retired police officer from Tampa, Florida, has been teaching CPTED for decades. He convenes 35-40 classes a year in the U.S. He has taught thousands of police officers in basic and advanced courses of CPTED and lately, he has seen more students from both the public and private sector, as well as nonprofit groups.

Hushen witnessed a resurgence in CPTED over the past decade or so, in large part because it has been embraced by mayors, public health, city planners, architects, engineers, lighting specialists, security specialists, the faith-based community, educational institutions, and local, state and federal agencies. All agree that this multi-dimensional approach creates safer places and eliminates design flaws that contribute to crime.

Goals are achieved through the four tenets of;

  1. Natural surveillance;
  2. Natural access control;
  3. Territorial reinforcement;
  4. Maintenance.

CPTED training reinforces the “Broken Windows” theory of order maintenance and building places for “safe activities in unsafe places” as heralded by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. The idea is that some locations may contribute to crime, whether through flawed design or by a lack of maintenance, access control, outward territorial reinforcement and natural surveillance. Hushen describes several examples where positive environmental changes and tactics combined to reduce crime or calls for service by more than 60%.

How Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) works

Hushen describes the CPTED process as altering the environment to both victim and potential offender, with reducing the risk of crime, and perception of crime as goals.

The modern iteration of CPTED exceeds merely clearing overgrown landscapes and increasing lighting at dark places. A security survey is an integral part of CPTED. Technology and the examination of social behavior are factored into the equation. The requirement of traditional policing tactics such as regular foot beat patrols, decoy operations, or "hot-spot" policing, is reduced as the community assumes responsibility for neighborhood properties.

The resurgence of CPTED may be explained as disciplines beyond law enforcement acknowledge their responsibility with environment-related crime. Architects and planners understand the importance of maximizing space and abhor nooks and odd spaces where they may be used for camping, drug use, or as ambush points.

Most law enforcement departments have a part in code enforcement, either directly, such as having CPTED-trained problem solvers and code enforcement officers, or through a process where problem areas are taken to another city department such as code enforcement or city/county attorney for action.

Legal action may be taken against property owners who do not comply with code standards that may contribute to crime, or the perception of crime. In extreme cases, lien notices may be sent to property owners. Other agencies with code enforcement abilities may include the fire department, public health office and public works department, to address their own concerns. Having a CPTED officer is necessary to represent the agency and to maintain records of problem areas, projects, progress and other record keeping.

Although larger law enforcement agencies may be more flexible to assigning an officer to CPTED to training and dedicated duty, smaller departments have seen the benefits of the training. In a multi-disciplinary setting, the law enforcement officer plays a support, not a main role, in the process. Smaller agencies may invest in CPTED training for patrol officers with shared duties to serve as the agency representative. Some may choose to hire or dedicate a non-sworn code enforcement position to the role. The justification of the position and training of a CPTED officer may be translated in reducing calls for service, better community outreach and lowering crime occurrences at chronic locations. Still, crime prevention may be difficult to quantify in terms of financial savings or reduced percentages of crime statistics.

Here are six reasons why your agency should use CPTED as part of its crime-fighting plan:

1. CPTED is community policing in every measure of the term.

CPTED incorporates multi-disciplinary coordination with the community, city planners, architects, code enforcement, public, private and nonprofit entities. Law enforcement is not the only agency tasked with addressing crime areas. Partnerships are made, and although they may not achieve consensus regularly, the collegial bonds may be useful in addressing future projects. Several jurisdictions include CPTED-trained law enforcement participation in projects in the planning process descriptions and in grant applications.

2. Long-term solutions are the goals.

Short-term, band-aid solutions last only so long before they require focus and attention. Once CPTED strategies are applied, only maintenance is required to keep problems from becoming chronic. Fewer calls-for-service may result. Community support and buy-in is essential in this phase for the hand-off to occur and apply. Problem solving methods tools include SARA (Scan, Analyze, Respond and Assess), as well as SWOT assessments (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).

3. Chronic, problem areas are eliminated by activating the space with participation.

Gathering places are created to deter crime. In the past, “solutions” may have been to fence or wall off an area to keep crime out. Instead, the location may be changed by encouraging people to gather at places, such as pocket parks, community gardens, or entertainment venues. Encourage clean-ups, increased lighting and a safe environment, rather than fencing or seclusion that would necessitate a heavy patrol obligation.

4. Provides clear sightlines for officers on patrol.

The natural surveillance part of CPTED encourages windows, lighting and unobstructed views to keep “eyes on the street,” a term coined by Jane Jacobs, an urban designer who advocated clear sight lines. Crimes of opportunity are lessened when the offender loses their ability to commit crimes out of sight. An officer may not see crimes committed at commercial businesses with ads covering windows, or no windows at all. This is essential not only during “routine patrol,” but also in response to critical incidents when sighting the offender is a primary objective.

5. Reduces calls for service.

Fewer crime reports and calls for service are made when chronic locations are cleaned up and turned into areas for “safe activities in [otherwise] unsafe places.” This is a term used often by Art Hushen as he describes putting meeting or gathering places in areas once left unattended for crime to occur. Think in terms of putting lunch or picnic tables next to a parking lot where cars are boosted, or bikes have been stolen from racks. Replace vacant lots where graffiti and illegal dumping had been regular occurrences into community gardens.

6. Allows for better nighttime visibility.

Every cop knows the problem of chronic areas for nighttime crime. Dark parking lots are likely to lose their allure as places to break into cars once the lighting is increased. Partnerships with public works and lighting utilities should be enlisted to come up with lighting solutions. In areas where traditional lighting strategies have been thwarted by individuals shooting out the lights, explore new LED lighting with hardened plastic lenses. A Tennessee agency experimented with the ability to raise or lower lighting in public areas from the radio car mobile video terminal, for use as conditions dictated.

Conclusion

Training officers in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design is essential for any department, large or small. Inclusion of CPTED strategies at parks, businesses, housing projects and chronic areas of crime or those locations requiring repeat responses may lessen calls for service over time. There is value in educating other city and town agencies of the benefit as a long-term solution to crime. Once adequately addressed, the CPTED project can be handed off to the invested community for maintenance and continuity. CPTED is a valuable tool to address actual crime, as well as to change the perception of crime in affected areas.

Bibliography

Chronic Neighborhoods Conference. CPTED: It’s more than just Lighting.

Jeffrey CR, Zahm DL. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, Opportunity Theory, and Rational Choice Models. From Routine Activity and Rational Choice: Advances in Criminological Theory, Volume 5, pp. 323-350, 1993, Ronald V. Clarke and Marcus Felson, eds.

NIJ. Issues and Practices. Solving Crime Problems in Residential Neighborhoods: Comprehensive Changes in Design, Management, and Use.

NIJ. Research Brief. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design in Parking Facilities.

NIJ. Research in Action. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design and Community Policing.

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