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Reviewing Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Criminology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 4760 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Crime prevention through Environmental Design has been used successfully as a method of crime control. The principle CPTED is to make the quality of life safer for people residing in communities, by making the environment safer through various scientific design methods that discourage criminal acts.

There are many programs dealing with the problem of crime in society today. Most criminal justice scholars are focused on controlling crime, believing improving crime control will eventually reduce crime or prevent it in many situations. This is the reason so much attention is given to crime control methods throughout the criminal justice community today (Champion.p.6).

Purpose of CPTED

CPTED focuses on techniques and settings to decrease crime. CPTED means changing the elements in any environment to (1) prevent or lessen crime; (2) to lessen fear of crime and apprehension, of crime risks; (3) to increase the aesthetic value of an environment; and (4) to increase the qualitative value of life for law-abiding citizens, particularly by reducing the inclination of the physical environment to sustain criminal behavior (Robinson, p. 169).

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The approach to crime prevention requires three important criteria:” (1) developing a strong police force; (2) organizing of an active group of citizens; and (3) initiating action to remove some of the causes of crime and conditions in which it flourishes.”(Robinson. p. 166). Robinson discussed several levels of analysis or approaches where CPTED is applicable-individual, group, school, community, and social. Stating “The individual level includes programs that focus on the individual’s behavior; the group level focuses on behavior as it stems from groups; and the school level approaches include a variety of strategies and techniques. The three levels focus appears to be on the physical environment-for example, clean and fenced schoolyard, controlling access, and so on, but it also includes discipline codes, mentoring, school uniforms, and so forth”. The community approach includes programs involving the community members, one example might be, after-school programs, whereas on the social level government becomes involved, through grants such as “Cops in Schools.” Robinson has advocated that the most effective method to preventing crime in schools would be a comprehensive crime prevention program that would be inclusive of all levels or approaches. (Robinson. p.169). “Conflict resolution programs are some of the most written about in school CPTED approaches” (Robinson. p.169).

Some basic principles of CPTED include target hardening (Target hardening means controlling access to neighborhoods to buildings also using surveillance on explicit areas to reduce crime opportunities). Additionally through, territorial reinforcement (which means ; raising the sense of security in settings people live and work in , by the encouragement of activities, thereby increasing informal control of the environment) (Fleissner, and Heinzelmann, 1996)

CPTED is very consistent with problem oriented policing, because it is concerned with a wide range of problems. Besides that of crime per se, it is consistent within system analysis of the crime event, plus events that contribute to the opportunism for crime, which can inevitably be used as strategies designed handle to the problems in a particular situational area or locales. CPTED is involved and active with citizen’s governmental agencies, as well as local institutions. CPTED has a role to perform in delineating the problem and making decisions with regard to appropriate solutions as well as responsibility for long-term solutions (Zahm, D. 2007).

The ultimate objective of CPTED is the reduction of opportunities for crime occurrence, by the application, of physical design features intentionally implemented for the purpose of discouraging crime, which simultaneously encourages legitimate uses of the environment (Gardner, R. A., 1995).

CPTED is different when compared with other crime prevention or security measures because it specifically focuses on aspects of the design. Other procedures tend to be directed at denying access to a target using by using preventive security measure such as locks and bars, or relying on electronic technology such as alarms and surveillance cameras to detect and identify an offender, in conjunction with security guards. CPTED is also unusual when compared to some police activities, because CPTED encourages prevention and considers design and logistics, while traditionally policing has valued a swift reaction to incidents, and the identification and arrest of offenders (Zahm, 2007).

Many crime prevention programs have been created by police agencies. These programs, or strategies, have been developed as policing policies, many under the heading of “community-oriented policing.” Community-oriented policing strategies may take on any of several focuses within the community: specific areas and groups may be targeted, or general strategies may be adopted to prevent crime throughout the entire community. By focusing on the environmental aspects of the community, “the frequency of certain types of criminal behavior may be reduced through identification and modification of the environmental conditions under which such offenses occur” (Robinson, pp. vii – viii). Many police agencies employ a combination of community-oriented policing programs, using specifically targeted strategies within a broader, general strategy (Robinson, pp. vii – viii).

Process of Problem Solving with SARA

“In crime prevention through environmental design, the problem-solving process implemented is a series of steps designed to answer four questions: What is the problem? Why here? What can be done to solve the problem? How well are we doing?” (Zahm.2007). Each of the aforementioned questions represents a segment in the SARA process: SARA is an acronym for scanning, analysis, response, and assessment. SARA serves as a guideline or perceptual framework for action; while SARA is a good place to start, the process may need to be adapted to the individual location and circumstances. The tangibility of the in each situation process depends on a variety of considerations, for example, an explicit crime problem in a particular setting. Zahm. 2007). Analyses may focus on a single type of crime and, because crime data are already available for the problem site, therefore analysis for solutions can begin immediately. More time might be required, as issues become more complex, and will have a greater influence on larger areas with a bigger population having invested interests. In such instances, it takes time to organize a problem-solving team and to collect data. Other considerations might be that it might be more difficult to find a solution that both addresses the problem and satisfies all those who are invested (Zahm, 2007).

Important tools used in the CPTED


Surveillance is a primary weapon used in the safeguarding of an area. When there are elevated risks that their actions will be witnessed, criminals are less likely to commit a crime. Environments where lawful occupants can apply a high degree of visual control increase the likelihood that criminal acts will be observed and reported (Gardner, 1995).

Informal Surveillance:

Informal Surveillance designed to reduce visual obstacles in addition to eliminating places of concealment for a possible assaulter offering the most protection against attack. These open designs also encourage use of the environment, as people feel safer when they can easily see and be sighted (Gardner, 1995).

The use of defensible space in conjunction with natural surveillance is a potent crime prevention tool. On the behalf of the resident/ proprietor, an intruder’s entrance into restricted space creates cause for attention and potential alarm. For the intruder, entering into a restricted area puts him into the spotlight, heightens his anxiety level, furthermore increasing his risk of being discovered and caught (Gardner, 1995).


Lighting can be one of the most effective crime deterrents. Light is a tool used to defer crime when it is well thought out and properly planned, it discourages criminal activity, reduces fear and enhances natural surveillance opportunities (Gardner, 1995).

The type and quantity of light required will vary depending on the situational logistics etc., but the goal consistently remains the same in all cases. To the highest degree possible, a level of light providing good visibility should be constantly maintained at night. The level of light, provided it meets minimum standards, is not as critical as the evenness of the light. Bright spots and shadows are not advised because; highly vulnerable areas and those that could conceal a potential attacker should be illuminated more brightly than other areas. The objective is more visibility of the criminal without spotlighting the victim (Gardner, 1995).

A bright, cheerful environment is much more pleasing than one that appears dark and lifeless. As used in CPTED, lighting plays a part in creating the ability to feel good about one’s environment, which is important in developing a sense of pride and ownership and a feeling of territoriality. Lighting can influence an individual’s feelings about his environment from an aesthetic as well as a safety standpoint (Gardner, 1995).

Landscaping design

Landscaping design plays a significant role in CPTED. Versatility to landscaping can be used to perform a variety of design functions. (Gardner. 1995). As a representative barrier, landscaping can delineate the changeover between zones. Decorative fencing, flowerbeds, ground cover, and varied patterns in cement work can clearly show division between zones. More substantial barriers are, shrubbery such as evergreen hedges and can be used to create more formidable obstacles if necessary (Gardner. 1995).From a surveillance standpoint, landscaping can be very important. Factors such as growth characteristics of plants and their placement in relation to potentially vulnerable areas are especially important (Gardner. 1995).It is important to maintain visual corridors in open, park-like areas as well as in densely planted areas. Generally, visual surveillance corridors can be maintained by limiting growth of shrubbery to a maximum height of three feet and trees to a minimum height of six feet at the lowest branches, thus ensuring that visibility between three and six feet from the ground will always be relatively unimpaired (Gardner.1995). Another function of landscaping in crime prevention is aesthetics, because aesthetics are important, an attractive environment brings about a feeling of a pride and ownership (Gardner.1995).

Physical Security

The problem with the physical security of most building projects lies in the fact that the designers of projects do not understand crime and criminals, or the positive an effect they can have on the averting of crime by taking positive steps during the designing stages of their work. The ignoring of crime prevention through environmental design can result in soaring residential and commercial burglary rates (Gardner, 1995).

Sophisticated physical security planning can contribute considerably to the general success of a project. The appropriate application of security hardware and the elimination of security flaws will from a structural viewpoint, significantly have a positive impact on future crime problems (Gardner. 1995). As an element of CPTED, the goal physical security planning is to make penetration more difficult and time-consuming, because the degree of difficulty and length of delay are key factors in reducing the probability that crime will occur (Gardner. 1995).

Many of the individual CPTED elements should be familiar to the security professional. Hardware, lighting, and surveillance are all standard tools of the trade. The emphasis of CPTED is not just on the tools, however. It is how the tools are used that makes the difference. Normally, a building is built and then secured. With CPTED, it is secured, and then built. More importantly, not just the building is secured but also the space around it. Importantly the security program is integrated into the environment, not just added on (Gardner, 1995).

CPTED was originally developed to reduce crime in public housing projects, but its applications are unlimited. It is a concept that can work not only in housing, but also in businesses, industries, public buildings, parks and recreation areas, and schools. It is a concept that is useful in effectively securing one building or an entire city (Gardner, 1995).

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) strategies aspire to change factors in various environments to lessen the opportunity for those environments to support crime. This can be achieved in many types of environments, which makes it a superlative concept to effect many areas of the population, in all different venues, such as commercial properties, shopping malls, residential governmental housing, and in private and public school environments. Although school violence has not increased in the last decade, CPTED strategies could still be employed to reduce school violence even further (Robinson. p. 70). CPTED is also geared to reduce fear of crime and perceptions of crime risks, enhancing the aesthetic quality of an environment, and adding to the quality of life for law-abiding citizens, by reducing the physical environment’s capacity to support criminal behavior (Robinson. p. 70).

Examples of Successful Projects: (Curries Woods Public housing Renovation, Jersey City, .N.J.) and The Westside Waterfront, Troy, N.Y.

Curries Woods Public housing Renovation

Curries Woods like many public housing projects was built in the late 1970s. In recent years, it had become a hot spot for crime, even the Jersey City Police Department did not like to even respond to calls there. New efforts were recently undertaken to change the nature of Curries Woods, with an emphasis on crime prevention (Robinson. p. 170).

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Five main strategies were undertaken to achieve the goal crime reductions .The first strategy involved CPTED. First, old high rises were demolished and construction of low-density town houses took place. New fences, lighting, limited entrances, manned monitoring booths, and parking stickers were all added to improve the general environment. Secondly, screening and eviction enforcement policies. Residents would now have to meet placement eligibility standards and agree to all aspects of the lease agreement, which included a “one strike and you’re out” clause. Violators of the lease were evicted (Robinson. p. 170).

Ninety-six large family units converted to ninety-one smaller occupant units, where six lower level apartments were converted to accommodate the physically handicapped, and the remaining apartments were reduced in size and fitted properly to house senior citizens and disabled persons. A number of young adult residents were relocated. Self-locking doors where installed, as well as apartment buzzers with an intercom, surveillance cameras, glass panels to the lobby and ground floor, a reduced sized lobby, and a wrought iron fence around the building to protect the ground level window. Since the CDTED renovations, the building’s security has improved because, these techniques have increased access control and reduced the number of crowds that often congregated in the lobby (Robinson, pp. 116 – 117).

When Curries Woods residents were surveyed in 1995, loitering, drinking, and drug activities were three of the most common problems occurring in the lobby area. After the renovation, crowd congregations have been eliminated and the all day and night pedestrian traffic has decreased (Robinson, pp. 116 – 117).

Unlike the former building, which had three entrances accessible to the public, this building has only one entrance. The former two exits are only for emergency use. For security purposes, to gain access into the renovated building, nonresidents are now required to stop at the resident monitor’s desk and sign the visitor’s book to record his/her name and destination. The resident monitors are required to sit inside a glass-enclosed office located across from the building’s two elevators, thus having the ability to observe the incoming and exiting pedestrian traffic (Robinson, pp. 116 – 117)..

The use of residents to maintain foyer and lobby area surveillance increases resident ownership and promotes resident involvement to maintain building safety. Closed circuit television was installed in each resident’s apartment and in the manager’s office to widen the use of video surveillance. An easily accessible on-site manager’s office used during day and evening hours, promoted daily business activity, as well as the use of the community room and laundry room, and reduces the opportunity for criminal and deviant behavior (Robinson, pp. 116 – 117)..

An additional measure to reduce criminal opportunity was the installation of windows around the building to enhance natural surveillance and bring more light onto the floors. Extensive use of windows now adds much more natural light to the floor halls, and, the street lamp illuminates the landings nearest the elevators during the night hours. The widening of the all hallways has brought increased lighting to the floors. (Robinson, pp. 116 – 117).

The combination of well-lit floors, wider halls, and large windows increases visibility inside the building. The increased hall space eases pedestrian movement and reduced close public contact when walking. The additional windows provide residents an opportunity to observe their cars while parked in front of the building, or sit and wait for a family member who is coming in a car. Parking in front of the building increases car surveillance and decreases the risk of auto theft. It also enables management to more easily identify resident cars and remove those cars, belonging to nonresidents (Robinson, pp. 116 – 117).

Disabled parking is situated directly in front of the building to shorten the walking distance to and from the building. The sidewalk is accessible for wheelchair usage and is much narrower than the previous sidewalks. Wide sidewalks drew larger crowd gatherings hence causing passageway obstructions. The increase in the presence of resident monitors promotes building pride and develops tenant responsibility and accountability (Robinson, pp. 116 – 117).

The reconstruction of 3 New Heckman Drive for seniors, the disabled and small-sized families has been successful using the CPTED strategies, and it has significantly reduced criminal opportunity and deterred unwanted visitors. (Robinson, pp. 116 – 117).

The Westside Waterfront, Troy, N.Y.

For the last few years NCPC has been working closely with Weed and Seed sites across the country, conducting Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) training and technical assistance (Coletrane, 2009). Currently, NCPC is working with Weed and Seed sites in Montgomery, AL; Washington, DC; Manchester, NH; Rome, NY; Troy, NY; Schenectady, NY; N. Charleston, SC; and Dallas, TX. Troy, for example, has had great success as a direct result of implementing an action plan using the CPTED principles learned through NCPC’s training.(Coletrane, 2009)

The Westside Waterfront Weed and Seed location in Troy houses over 3,500 households, the majority are renters. This West side waterfront community wanted to lower the amount of property crime and reclaim its green areas that had become populated by drug traffickers and users (Coletrane, 2009).

This Weed and Seed site increased and improved used signs at the apartment buildings to make it easier to define where private and public property began and ended. They renovated the playground to make it more user-friendly and appealing by laying mulch on the surface, improving the lighting, and installing a small “splash pad” with a water sprinkler for children. Landscaping was improved, the parking lot was re-lined, and a wrought-iron fence will soon be installed.The site also focused on reclaiming Troy’s Canal Avenue Park for family use. This park was in disrepair and disfigured with graffiti . The area had rusted playground equipment and Older youth loitered there intimidating the younger children and families who might have wanted to use the park (Coletrane, 2009).

Local partners were contacted and engaged with successfully; the city administration agreed to develop a work plan and new vision for the park. The fire department agreed to open and lock the gates to the park every day. The community-policing unit agreed to patrol more regularly, the Osgood Crime Watch Association agreed to maintain the park, and this past April, on Earth Day service projects had 60 neighbors volunteer to remove graffiti, clean up and paint playground equipment, and trim trees to help sightlines and lighting. In addition, the United Way organized a revitalization team of 100 volunteers to take out the old playground equipment and ready the site for new, toddler-scaled playground equipment; install new picnic tables and barbeque grills; and design and install a children’s literacy trail garden based on the book Flower Garden by Eve Bunting. Signs displaying the simple verses of the children’s tale illustrate the garden and the path through it (Coletrane, 2009).


“Many crime prevention programs work, others do not. Most programs have not yet been evaluated with enough scientific evidence to draw conclusions “(Sherman, et-al 1998). Experimental designs are more difficult to conduct with CPTED strategies. A multitude of CPTED studies has been conducted, trying to determine the impact of the strategies on specific geographic areas. When the units of measurement are areas instead of individuals, experimental designs are more challenging because random assignment is more difficult to accomplish, plus it is often difficult to identify comparable areas to serve as controls, and it can be challenging to ensure that the intervention does not inadvertently affect the control area. Use of statistical techniques control for other variables influencing outcomes will help increase scientific a more stringent control of the evaluations (Anonymous n.a.). Environmental factors require longer data collection periods. Although research indicates that fear of crime and perceptions of safety are affected by time of year, many CPTED studies have not had long enough follow-up periods that report seasonal variations (Anonymous n.a.).

A solution would be longer follow-up periods that would allow comparison periods correctly matched by time of year to decrease the chance that fluctuations in factors such as temperature or hours of daylight, which can effect for observed outcomes. Additionally, studies of CPTED strategies in the vein of street lighting or outdoor cameras should take into account environmental factors such as time of day since these types of strategies may have different effects on different types of crime depending on whether it is day or night. Use of statistical techniques to control other variables that might be influencing outcomes, could help increase the scientific accuracy of the evaluations (Anonymous n.a.).

Another difficulty is that Multiple CPTED strategies are often implemented together making more difficult to determine which individual components of the various strategies are responsible for reductions in crime (Anonymous n.a.).

Accounting for successes and failures is difficult when program implementation data is incomplete. Many times in studies when CPTED strategies are implemented, the process of collecting data that would show why and how a CPTED strategy was implemented has been overlooked in favor of collecting outcome data to show its impact. Therefore, it is more difficult to determine potential reasons for a program’s success or failure if implementation has not been properly documented. Data indicating why a strategy was chosen as well, as how it was implemented would provide information on how these factors affected program outcomes (Anonymous n.a.).

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Crime Prevention

Primary Crime Prevention

Primary crime prevention models all involve some level of community involvement. However, each type of prevention focuses on a specific developmental stage of crime. Primary prevention addresses the conditions in the natural environment that may lead to the development and prevalence of crime. Lack of street maintenance, broken windows, abandoned buildings, and broken down cars are a few examples of a disorganized community. Primary prevention seeks to alleviate the factors that may lead to crime Safetycops (n.a.).

Secondary Crime Prevention

Secondary crime prevention attempts to prevent crime by focusing on at-risk offenders or potential opportunities that may foster criminal activity. The main tool used in secondary crime prevention is identification and prediction. There are many theoretical bases for the implementation of secondary crime prevention programs. Once able to identify potential places, people, situations, or opportunities that are at-risk for criminal activity it may be possible to predict and prevent any future criminal occurrence. By reducing the potential opportunities to commit crime, increasing the risks of the crime, and by minimizing the would-be gains of the criminal act, it is more likely that the criminal be discouraged and not engage in such behavior (Safetycops (n.a.).

Tertiary Crime Prevention

Tertiary prevention, unlike primary and secondary prevention focuses on prevention after a crime has occurred. The focus is to reduce the recidivism rate of criminals and insure that steps are taken so that a victim will not be re-victimized Serious violent crimes often occur in what is normally called “hot spots.” targeting these areas and using a combination of programs reduction of crime is possible. Situational Crime Prevention has been shown to dramatically reduce burglary crimes. In a Maryland Report, over 90% of the studies evaluated on situational crime prevention show reductions in crime. Approaches such as target hardening had a significant effect on crime rates Safetycops (n.a.).

I feel the CPTED programs have several advantages over the other programs, by planning strategies that avert or eliminate crime opportunities .CPTED treats whole areas at a time, instead of the emphasis being on treating problems on an individual basis, or person-to-person basis, bringing swifter results, effecting whole communities. CPTED is flexible; its variables can be integrated into most crime programs as part of the solution to avert crime through readdressing public areas problems, commercial areas, residential communities or public housing, parks, government facilities and schools. It can embrace the best components and strategies of other programs, such as, surveillance technologies policing, and psychological tools, as well as parts of other successful programs proven successful strategies in the reduction crime.

The criterion principle is to make the quality of life safer for people residing in communities by making the environment safer through various scientific and design methods that discourage criminal acts. Crime prevention through Environmental Design has been proven to work successfully as a method of modern crime control alone, and combined with other crime preventions programs. In new schools being built, CPTED planning it is a prerequisite to get government contracts and funding in certain towns and states. I think its future is very promising and will be implemented and intergraded into many future projects.


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