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Discovering the benefits of CPTED through trial and error

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a crime prevention approach and series of applications used by planning, architectural, engineering, design, police and security professionals to name a few. However, over complicating CPTED or underutilizing its principles and applications seems to be a common mistake.


November 22, 2010
By Canadian Security

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CPTED has been defined as follows: “The proper design and effective use of the built environment can lead to a reduction in the fear and incidence of crime, and to an improvement in the quality of life.”

I don’t wish to attempt to educate you on CPTED, argue about its results or value, nor do I claim to be anywhere near an expert. I am however a basic practitioner and fan of this area of crime prevention which I consider to be a science. I am writing here to explain some of my experiences with CPTED and some common mistakes I have seen which has led the owners of facilities to avoid its use.

A few years ago I was exploring employment opportunities within the commercial real estate field when I came across some senior property managers and human resource professionals who asked if I was CPTED trained or certified. This lead me to the conclusion that it had become a normal practice in this field and that it was understood and accepted by these professionals as a minimum requirement, in the skill set for a security manager in the facilities management side of the business. Unfortunately, this conclusion was incorrect. As it turned out, this was just one misunderstood acronym along with a series of possible professional security designations that had been provided to some of these employers by colleagues to add in the “Nice to Have” column on their security manager’s job description. One manager of a large facility actually took the time (or waste of time) to bait me into a seemingly positive conversation of some of the techniques and values of CPTED, where I quickly exhausted my own knowledge. This discussion concluded with his distaste for a young architect whom had made a series of CPTED based recommendations which he found to be too expensive. He went on to state that he and some of his peers found CPTED to be smoke and mirrors and a fancy name for lights and landscaping.

Now, many security professionals may agree that at times environmental, health and safety, life safety and security principals contradict one another. At times seasonal decorations, advertising and artistic vision in a facility, may lead to obstructed Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) images.

It is common to hear that security should have been, although were not, consulted at the beginning of a building design or major renovation. I don’t foresee this changing in the near future. However, there is a great opportunity for the real CPTED experts to help change the culture of design, by ensuring that this area of study becomes a foundation in the curriculum for those professionals who are consulted at the design and build stage, such as architects and urban planners.

For those of us providing direction in crime prevention strategies from the consulting or security management point of view, I will explain some of my own mistakes, which I have found duplicated by other junior CPTED practitioners in their early attempts to implement its strategies. In the beginning, I myself made the common mistake of making security recommendations painted with a CPTED brush, which were based solely on technology such as, add cameras here, here and here. A number of years ago I returned from an all too brief seminar on CPTED and submitted an entire business plan to my general manager with a CPTED heading. No matter what you call it, lengthy reports which translate into numerous projects, many expenses that lack justification are a quick way to turn off any decision maker who holds the pen and purse.


I myself have put my foot in my mouth by pointing out the many flaws of landscaping, lighting and signage from a CPTED perspective to fellow department heads, who had taken the time and pride to implement the existing features. I did so without getting their buy-in and cooperation. I have also provided CPTED recommendations with the expectation that they would all be made tomorrow and carried out by someone else. These recommendations were simply paragraphs of CPTED principles and lists of features such as lighting and mirrors that were based on text book examples rather than an audit or plan.

Security managers, if patient, can however be part of on-going, long term CPTED improvements. By attending CPTED training, soliciting the assistance of a local consultant or in some cases the local police, security managers can conduct a fair and proper CPTED audit of their site. The recommendations should be made simple and accompanied with justification.

Adding lights for the sake of adding lights is of no value. Adding lights where the lighting levels are below local ordinance or code, where crimes have taken place in the dark and when the CCTV system cannot provide a clear image makes more sense to property owners. This does not override the value of working closely with the professional responsible for lighting at the facility to assist you in meeting common goals of safety and energy reduction.

This may also mean taking the time to sit in on a landscaping planning sessions with the grounds keeper to help select suitable, visually pleasing and CPTED practical plants to replace those you are sending to the compost, while bearing in mind that these recommendations should be made in line with the overall objectives and budgets of the facility. If a series of incidents have occurred in the parking garage then the immediate implementation or increase in the security presence and CPTED recommendations may be very well justified.

However, should the threat be low, the history of incidents absent and the facility a mere six months away from major property renovations, asking for on the spot CPTED changes may fall onto deaf ears. Delivering these recommendations to the facility manager explaining that they are to assist the project manager when the construction plan is written may be a good way to win a seat at the planning table. A security manager who persists on the entire facility design being changed tomorrow may face disappointing and frustrating rejection for their hard work and planning.

Like most new found knowledge, many of us want to use it as we turn the page. A security manager who demonstrates patience by waiting until the opportunity presents itself will be more likely to see the fruits of their labor come to be. I can say from my own experiences that you will find peace of mind, in that you will be doing the facility and the science of CPTED justice.  

I firmly believe that CPTED principles work for the property and not the other way around.

Michael Allen is Manager, Security, National Programs with Oxford Properties. He can be reached at: mallen@oxfordproperties.com


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