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What Is CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) and How to Use It

How criminals behave in an area is inspired by environmental cues. CPTED is a crime prevention theory that focuses on the tactical design of buildings, landscaping, and outdoor environments, based on human and criminal behavior, to reduce crime and return control to property managers and law-abiding individuals. Preventative and proactive, it’s a cost-effective security solution for organizations and residential units. 

What Is CPTED?

CPTED (pronounced sep-ted) stands for Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design and is a popular crime prevention method today because of its effectiveness in reducing opportunities for crime and the fear of crime. 

Other security methods, from window bars to visible devices, while effective, can make an area appear too high-risk and make people uneasy. This is not ideal for peace of mind.

Conversely, CPTED enhances quality of life by accounting for environmental factors like building orientation, fences, lighting, landscaping, signage, and so on. It’s also common for CPTED measures to encourage a sense of community that hinders criminal acts.

Applied correctly, CPTED can:

  • Reduced crime
  • Improve quality of life and feelings of safety
  • Prompt aesthetic improvements 
  • Increase property value

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design works best when part of an overarching security strategy that includes other measures like security policy or personnel. 

Where Does CPTED Come From? 

CPTED is a time-tested theory that dates back to the 60s. The concept first arose from Jane Jacobs, who wrote about using the physical environment to reduce crime in 1961. In 1971, Professor C. Ray Jeffery gave it the official name Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. 

In 1972, Architect Oscar Newman introduced the concept of defensible space: that public, semi-public, and private spaces should be more clearly defined to inspire feelings of ownership and defensiveness that would discourage crime. This theory was more limited than CPTED and focused only on protective behavior rather than criminal decision-making. 

Defensible space had only mixed success until it and CPTED were combined into the current CPTED theory. Today, CPTED is widely practiced and led by organizations like the International CPTED Association

Where Is CPTED Used?

You can apply CPTED anywhere, but locations that benefit most are commercial, institutional, and residential properties. 

Commercial Properties: Use CPTED strategies to promote business security and employee and customer safety.

Institutional Properties: Institutions like schools and hospitals increase safety with CPTED strategies and trained security guards.

Residential Properties: Neighborhoods and multi-family dwellings like apartments and condominiums increase safety through CPTED strategies and community programs.

If you have an existing property, you can meet with a certified consultant to suggest appropriate CPTED measures. If you’re constructing a new location, you can still meet with a consultant to design your building with CPTED in mind. 

Multi-Family Residential Properties, CPTED, and Florida Law

Florida House Bill 837 requires owners or managers of multi-family properties to meet specific security requirements by January 1, 2025, to have a presumption against liability for third-party crimes that happen onsite. These requirements include employee crime deterrence and safety training and passing a CPTED assessment. CPTED assessments need to be reviewed every three years. We talk about these below.

CPTED Principles and Strategies

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design centers on four principles: territoriality, natural surveillance, natural access control, and maintenance. 

1. Territorial Control

Territorial control or territoriality is about encouraging people to feel ownership over an area so they are motivated to protect it and intruders feel unwelcome. This especially applies to multi-family properties where residents often see areas outside of their unit as outside their responsibility. 

Certain environmental design strategies in these semi-public spaces can inspire feelings of  informal ownership, such as:  

  • Arched entryways
  • Attractive fencing and walkways
  • Building and address labels
  • Security gates
  • Identification requirements
  • Roundabouts and speed bumps
  • Fewer units grouped together

2. Natural Surveillance

Natural surveillance includes maximizing clear sightlines and visibility so people can easily observe public spaces and feel safer. This discourages criminal behavior, as criminals don’t want to be seen. 

Common natural surveillance measures include:

  • Low-level landscaping
  • Quality exterior lighting at night
  • Windows that prevent blind spots
  • Removal of hiding spots
  • Wrought iron fences over solid walls
  • Activity support areas that encourage time spent outside

While CPTED centers on natural surveillance, a qualified security consultant can also advise on security hardware (video surveillance and locks) and human security (guards and patrols) as appropriate.

3. Access Control

Access control uses physical strategies to limit or deny access to your property so people can’t trespass without being seen and don’t enter in ways other than intended. These methods increase a criminal’s risks by controlling their movements while improving the quality of life for those meant to be there.  

Examples of access control measures include:

  • Smart entrances and exits 
  • Fencing and walkways
  • Strategic landscaping, like thorny bushes under windows 
  • Gravel that makes sound when walked on
  • Street controls like road barriers

4. Maintenance and Management

Properties in good physical condition signal that the area is cared for and unsafe for criminal activity. You can improve property image through maintenance and management initiatives like:

  • Graffiti removal
  • Trash pick up
  • Prohibiting non-operating vehicles
  • Requiring timely fixes for things like cracked windows
  • Maintain parking areas and pot-holes 
  • Fresh signage
  • Safety training for staff

It’s also up to management to encourage people to report suspicious activity. Natural surveillance is ineffective if someone sees something but doesn’t report it. We recommend encouraging occupants’ feelings that they can make a difference by taking the appropriate steps.

How to Implement CPTED: CPTED Assessments

Crime has long been seen as the responsibility of the police, but property and business owners can create a secure environment that prevents crime to begin with. If you are looking to implement CPTED, we recommend undergoing a CPTED assessment (also called a CPTED survey). 

A CPTED assessment will evaluate any security hazards on your property and identify improvements you can make to increase safety that align with your operations. If your facility is in the pre-construction phase, a CPTED survey will ensure you’ve chosen a safe location and that it’s designed to industry standards. 

We recommend consulting with a CPTED-certified practitioner, as CPTED measures misapplied can displace or encourage crime. For example, placing benches can promote community interaction or ask for criminals to loiter. You also need to go through a certified practitioner if you’re looking to reduce liability risk. 

What to Expect From a CPTD Assessment

A CPTED assessment starts with a crime report of the property and surrounding area, followed by a meeting with the property manager to go over any background information or concerns. The following inspection evaluates the current state of the property according to the four CPTED principles. Any assessment of the lighting or surveillance footage will take place after dusk. 

As a security consulting firm, we offer and recommend a preliminary survey for anyone undergoing a CPTED assessment for legal compliance. A preliminary survey allows you to fix any vulnerabilities before your official assessment so you don’t have prior non-compliance on your record.

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