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Deterring Crime Through Design: The Principles of CPTED

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) is a multi-disciplinary approach to deterring criminal behavior through the design and effective use of manipulating the built environment to create safer neighborhoods.


CPTED was developed in the 1970s by criminologist C. Ray Jeffery, who argued that the physical environment should be taken into consideration when attempting to reduce crime. He argued that environmental design could be used to influence the behavior of potential offenders, create a sense of ownership among residents, and create a sense of safety for those who live and work in the environment.


CPTED has been used in a variety of settings, from public parks and housing developments to commercial properties and military facilities. It can be implemented through a variety of means, such as natural surveillance, target hardening, and access control. CPTED has been found to be effective in reducing crime, while also creating a more welcoming and secure environment.

Elements of Crime prevention through environmental design include:

• Natural Surveillance

• Access Control

• Territorial Reinforcement

• Maintenance

• Target Hardening

1. Natural Surveillance: Designing the environment to maximize the ability of people to observe activity in public areas.


Natural surveillance measures can be implemented through design of the physical environment, such as curved streets with multiple view points, transparent weather vestibules at building entrances, and proper lighting design. These measures can be complemented by mechanical and organizational measures, such as CCTV cameras, to further increase visibility and deter potential criminal activity.

2. Access Control: Designing the environment to control access to areas and resources.


Natural access control is a method of limiting access to private spaces by using structures, fencing, lighting, and landscaping to control flow and reduce the opportunity for crime. It involves using a single, clearly identifiable point of entry, maze entrances in public restrooms, low, thorny bushes beneath ground level windows, waist-level picket-type fencing along residential property lines, locking gates between front and backyards, shoulder-level open-type fencing along lateral residential property lines, and substantial, high, closed fencing between a backyard and a public alley. Natural access control is used in conjunction with mechanical and operational access control measures to enhance security.

3. Territorial Reinforcement: Designing the environment to create a sense of ownership and pride in the area.


Natural territorial reinforcement is a method of promoting social control through increased definition of space and improved proprietary concern. This can be achieved by using buildings, fences, pavement, signs, lighting and landscape to express ownership and define public, semi-public and private space. Additionally, territorial reinforcement measures such as motion sensor lights, security system signage, and amenities in common areas can help to attract larger numbers of desired users, increase proper use, and make the potential offender aware of a substantial risk of apprehension or scrutiny.

4. Maintenance: Designing the environment to ensure that it is well maintained and free of graffiti and other signs of neglect.


Maintenance is essential for maintaining control of property and deterring crime. The Broken Windows Theory suggests that a zero tolerance approach should be taken to property maintenance, with broken windows and graffiti being fixed promptly. This not only conveys a sense of pride and ownership, but also helps to reduce the likelihood of further vandalism and disorder.

5. Target Hardening: Designing the environment to make it more difficult for criminals to access areas and resources.


Target hardening refers to the strengthening of the security of a building or installation in order to protect it from attack or theft. It is a part of crime prevention through environmental design, and includes measures such as ensuring doors and windows are secure, adding hard barriers and landscapes, and removing or pruning trees or bushes that could offer hiding places. In military or counter-terrorism terms, target hardening refers to securing strategic or tactical assets against adversary attack. Other related terms include hostile vehicle mitigation and "blast hardening".


Applications of CPTED

Residential Security: CPTED can be used to design and modify residential areas so they are more secure. CPTED principles can be used to create an environment where it is difficult for criminals to operate. This can be done by increasing the visibility of a home, installing better lighting, and creating defensible spaces around the home.

Commercial Security: CPTED strategies can be used to improve the security of commercial buildings and surrounding grounds. This can be done by using natural surveillance techniques, such as strategically placing windows and entryways so that any activity can be monitored. Other strategies include increasing the visibility of the building, installing better lighting, and creating defensible spaces.


School Security: CPTED strategies can be used to improve the security of schools. This can include increasing visibility, installing security cameras and other surveillance systems, and designing the building to provide defensible spaces. CPTED can also be used to create a safer school environment by making sure that pathways are well-lit and are designed to limit access points.4. Public Spaces: CPTED principles can be used to design public spaces, such as parks and plazas, so that they are safer and more secure. This can be done by increasing visibility, installing better lighting, and creating defensible spaces. CPTED strategies can also be used to create a sense of ownership and responsibility in the public space.


Benefits of CPTED include:

• Increased Safety: CPTED strategies are designed to reduce the potential for crime by providing an environment that is less conducive to its occurrence. This can include improving lighting, landscaping to increase visibility, and other physical design features.


• Improved Quality of Life: CPTED strategies can also make neighborhoods more attractive and inviting, thus increasing the quality of life for residents. This can include adding seating, bike paths, and other amenities to encourage people to use the space.


• Crime Deterrence: CPTED strategies can also be used to send a message to potential criminals that their activities are not welcome and will not be tolerated. This can include signage, lighting, and other visual cues that signal the area is being monitored and maintained.


• Cost Savings: Implementing CPTED strategies can save money in the long run by reducing the need for security personnel, cameras, and other costly measures.


The implementation of CPTED principles can have a positive impact on public safety. CPTED strategies can be used to reduce crime and the fear of crime by making physical environments less attractive to criminals. CPTED strategies can also be used to increase the visibility of people in public spaces, which can help to deter criminal activity. Additionally, CPTED strategies can be used to create a sense of ownership and community pride, which can help to create a safer environment. Finally, CPTED strategies can be used to improve the physical design of public spaces, which can help to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries.


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