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Back to Archives | Back to January 2010 Contents 

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design: CPTED 40 Years Later

By Captain Ed Book, District Commander, Gainesville, Florida, Police Department; and Professor Richard Schneider, Urban and Regional Planning, College of Design, Construction, and Planning, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida

here is new evidence that supporting crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) related approaches can enhance crime prevention resources in local law enforcement and broaden partnerships with community groups. A recent survey of 131 police, planner, and code enforcement respondents from the United States and Canada identifies current practices and uses of CPTED.

CPTED is derived from environment-behavior research and provides strategies to conceptualize and control the form, the design, and the management of built and natural environments to prevent, reduce, or mitigate criminal acts.1

Place-Based Crime Prevention

Following a decade of significant urban unrest, CPTED emerged in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s, along with a number of closely related place-based2 crime prevention theories such as defensible space, situational crime prevention, and environmental criminology3 as a crime prevention technique. These place-based crime prevention theories resulted in politically neutral crime prevention strategies that are sustainable over time; help conserve scarce law enforcement resources; and involve local agencies, residents, and businesses as partners. Moreover, they are compatible with both problem-oriented policing and community-oriented policing. Evidence of the effectiveness of place-based crime prevention techniques in mitigating and preventing crime has been steadily accumulating since their emergence.4

The British police formally adopted defensible space- and CPTED-based strategies at the national level beginning in 1994 as Secure by Design (SBD). However, the pattern and timing of implementation in North American policing have been much more fragmented. A few of the early adopters in North America include the municipal police agencies Tempe and Tucson, Arizona; Sarasota, Florida; and Toronto and Vancouver, Canada. Many other jurisdictions have yet to implement the defensible space concepts comprehensively and meaningfully.

Because these concepts involve building regulation and land use management, some CPTED-related strategies are often adopted first by planning and code enforcement agencies largely independent of police input. For example, a 1994 survey conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Department of Justice found that 151 cities reported that they had incorporated some types of CPTED strategies into their development and zoning codes.5

At the federal level, in response to mounting evidence of the benefits of place-based crime prevention strategies, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) changed its public housing design policy away from constructing high-rise mega projects that created huge ground-level spaces that were virtually impossible to manage or police. In 1995, HUD touted defensible space and CPTED strategies as key components in “deterring crime and building communities” 6 especially in public housing. In reality, federal housing policy has only indirectly affected local police practices, especially in communities without extensive public housing projects. And while the use of CPTED strategies has grown as community-oriented policing has expanded, there have been few studies and little evidence to help police administrators better understand how CPTED has actually been implemented—and succeeded—in local agencies.

Now, results from a 2008 practice-and-use survey demonstrate how communities actually incorporate CPTED-based crime prevention strategies into day-to-day operations. The survey also reconsiders some challenges and obstacles that local police administrators face in attempting to incorporate CPTED approaches into crime prevention units. The survey was sponsored by the National Institute of Crime Prevention (, the Florida Design Out Crime Association (, and the City of Gainesville, Florida, Police Department (

Basic CPTED Strategies

Many CPTED training institutes and recognized CPTED authorities have different versions of the key CPTED and design-out-crime principles. Moreover, many North American jurisdictions now identify CPTED-related approaches by a number of names, including “Design Out Crime” and “Secure by Design.” However, all agree on between three and five core strategies:

1. Natural Surveillance – A physical design concept directed primarily at making intruders easily observable, whether by police, guards, residents, bystanders, or electronic devices. Natural surveillance promotes design features that maximize visibility of people, parking areas, building entrances, and vulnerable interior spaces. Doors and windows look out on to streets and parking areas, and designs encourage pedestrians and on-lookers to use sidewalks, paths, and front porches. Natural surveillance is facilitated by adequate sightlines and lighting. Good natural surveillance reduces crime opportunity by increasing offenders’ risk of being observed.
Figure 1
Good Natural Surveillance
Views onto the
Figure 2
Poor Natural Surveillance
Blocked view of store clerks
Source: Photos by Richard Schneider

2. Territorial Reinforcement – Physical design can help create or extend a sphere of influence, which increases offenders’ sense of risk and legitimate users’ sense of territorial control. Physical features that clearly define property lines and distinguish private spaces from public spaces use such elements as landscape plantings, pavement designs, gateway treatments, and CPTED-compliant fences, among other devices.
Figure 3
Good Territorial Reinforcement
Clearly personalized territory
Figure 4
Poor Territorial Reinforcement
No clear boundaries
Source: Photos by Richard Schneider

3. Natural Access Control – This physical design strategy decreases crime opportunity by denying or delaying access to crime targets and creating a perception of increased effort and risk in offenders. Streets, sidewalks, building entrances, and neighborhood gateways clearly indicate public routes and discourage access to private or off-limit areas with structural elements. Target hardening, a related concept, uses physical features that prohibit or delay entry or access, including, for example, window locks, door dead bolts and metal door frames, bollards, gates, and planters.
Figure 5
Good Natural Access Control
Clear pathway to enter building
Figure 6
Poor Natural Access Control
Informal, obscured pathway
Source: Photos by Richard Schneider

Target hardening can have counter-intuitive impacts such as where buildings or sites are so insulated and isolated that they induce fear among residents and shoppers.
Figure 7
Good Target Hardening
Designer bollards impeding mall entry
Figure 8
Poor Target Hardening (fortress effect)
Barred windows in housing
Source: Photos by Richard Schneider

4. Activity Generation – A concept that works to reinvigorate community problem areas by making “dead” spaces come alive. Activity generators may involve public attractions such as street vendors and music performers, climbing walls, recreation for children, and public art. All of these items can bring legitimate users to areas in need of new activity and business and act to deter criminal activity.
Figure 9
Activity Generation
Public art attracting activity
Figure 10
Activity Generation
Public art as crime deterrent
Source: Photos by Richard Schneider

5. Place Maintenance – A management strategy that ensures that the built environment is kept up, clean, welcoming, and ready for use by legitimate users. It is closely related to broken windows theories and strategies.
Figure 11
Good Place Maintenance
Figure 12
Poor Place Maintenance
Source: Photos by Richard Schneider

CPTED has practical application for cities as an exceptional crime prevention strategy in all neighborhoods and business corridors. It can also be used in settings such as parking garages, bus stops, restrooms, public property, and parks.

Modern CPTED practice stresses the importance that one-size-fits-all solutions are not appropriate. Applications must therefore be tailored to individual contexts, cultures, and circumstances. Moreover, “21st Century CPTED”7 recognizes the fundamental importance of the connection among place management, planning, scheduling, and design.

Law Enforcement Involvement with CPTED

Survey results offer evidence that law enforcement personnel tend to know more about CPTED principles than those in other municipal or metropolitan agencies. However, police involvement in CPTED review is nevertheless low at the crucial early stages of building design and neighborhood development in many local jurisdictions. Moreover, implementation itself is highly variable at all stages of plan review and development screening processes. The survey found that police advice is more frequently offered following construction than during other phases. Studies have shown that early involvement in the design and building permit processes regarding security interventions is more cost-effective and sustainable than retrofitting following construction.

Why aren’t police involved in the initial phases? Survey data suggest this is due to a number of factors: turf protection in other agencies, bureaucratic resistance to change, low levels of CPTED knowledge outside of police agencies, and a lack of ordinances and codes that require CPTED review.

In some communities, local builders and contractors oppose CPTED code-based review as adding more regulation to an already highly regulated industry. Indeed, many CPTED advocates suggest that mandated review is not necessarily the answer.

The result of place-based crime prevention shifts at least some of the burden (and costs) of crime from enforcement and apprehension to a broader range of agencies and partners—including code enforcement officials, planners, designers, and the development community—who become active crime prevention participants.

Given present resources, police agencies cannot be expected to do crime prevention all by themselves. Applying CPTED’s principles helps spread the responsibility of crime fighting across the community. Forty years of experience and a growing evidence base show that judiciously applied CPTED-based strategies work across a wide range of land uses and human activities, including transportation hubs, schools, commercial and industrial districts, and hospitality and tourism quarters, as well as at large special events and sporting competitions.

To facilitate this, new methods of educating elected and appointed public officials (including police administrators), development industry members, planners, architects, urban designers, and the public at large about the benefits of CPTED need to be fashioned. This effort must be built on a knowledge-based foundation, from which thoughtful local policy and ordinances can be modeled.

Highlights of Survey Findings

The following is a summary of the CPTED survey findings:

  • Overall agency size does not seem to have much impact on the size of crime prevention units. Most police agency respondents reported having relatively small crime prevention units in their agency (<10 sworn and non-sworn members) no matter the size of the agency.

  • While most members of crime prevention units (about 67 percent of respondents) are assigned full-time to their duties, very few of them devote much time to CPTED. This low level of involvement probably represents the splintered time commitments of crime prevention staff generally.

  • Virtually all 131 respondents indicated that they had some level of knowledge of CPTED principles and practices, and that they had received specialized training in CPTED.

  • While a prime objective of CPTED is to better manage the physical environment to reduce crime, only a small minority (about 14 percent) of respondents said that CPTED screening was used during early plan review phases, when design recommendations would be most helpful to architects and builders.
          Rather, CPTED review is used more frequently during post-construction evaluation (existing structure or site review) when changes are likely to be more costly. The responses here are consistent with the general lack of codification of local CPTED ordinances.

  • About 39 percent of respondents said that they provided CPTED advice to home and business owners between 10 and 45 percent of their time. While this is certainly valuable, the vast majority spent little or no time providing advice to city/county elected and appointed councils, commissions, and/or boards. This is unfortunate since these groups provide basic policy guidance for local government, including law enforcement agencies.

  • Over 60 percent of the 131 respondents stated that their local government’s plan review and building permitting processes do not incorporate CPTED review into ordinances. While local crime prevention units can recommend changes to structural designs or plans based on CPTED principles, very few (only six agencies) can mandate changes for crime prevention purposes.
          Reasons for the inability of law enforcement agencies’ power to implement CPTED-related changes center around problems with interagency coordination and communication (for example, with planning or codes agencies), the lack of local CPTED codes and ordinances, lack of education by other officials about the real and potential benefits of CPTED, and general resistance to change.

  • When asked about solutions to CPTED implementation problems, respondents cited more public education and training, incorporating CPTED into academy courses, codification of CPTED ordinances, more cooperative action between agencies, and more staffing. Some responses suggested that police, planning, and code enforcement personnel be cross-trained on CPTED implementation as displayed in some cities, such as Tempe, Arizona. Other cities, such as Gainesville, Florida, are formalizing crime prevention and CPTED training certifications for codes enforcement personnel to help achieve similar goals.

The complete survey methodology and results can be found at the Florida Design Out Crime Association Web site, ■


1C. Ray Jeffery, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1977); and Tim Crowe, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, 2nd ed. (Boston: Butterworth–Heinemann, 2000).
2“Place-Based” crime prevention theories and strategies focus primarily on physical design and attributes of spaces as distinct from offenders’ backgrounds or correctional, legal, or policing systems. The basic question asked by these approaches is “why is crime more (or less) likely to happen here than elsewhere in the community?”
3See for example: Jeffery, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design; Crowe, Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, 2nd ed.; Oscar Newman, Defensible Space: Crime Prevention through Urban Design (New York: Macmillan, 1973); Paul J. Brantingham and Patricia L. Brantingham, eds., Environmental Criminology (Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 1990).
4For summaries of some of this evidence see Richard H. Schneider and Ted Kitchen, Planning for Crime Prevention: A Transatlantic Perspective (London: Routledge, 2002); and Richard H. Schneider and Ted Kitchen, Crime Prevention in the Built Environment (London: Routledge, 2007).
5See “U.S. Conference of Mayors Report, 1994,” in Resource Manual on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, NCJ 174037 (U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, 1997).
6Henry G. Cisneros, Defensible Space: Deterring Crime and Building Community (Washington, D.C.: Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1995).
7See: Greg Saville and Gerry Cleveland, “An Introduction to 2nd Generation CPTED: Part 1,” CPTED Perspectives 6, no. 1 (2003): 7–9; and Greg Saville and Gerry Cleveland, “An Introduction to 2nd Generation CPTED: Part 2,” CPTED Perspectives 6, no. 2 (2003): 4–8.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 1, January 2010. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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