Canadian Security Magazine

Alternatives to CPTED

By Canadian Security   

Features Opinion

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is based on three premises: natural surveillance, natural access control and territoriality. While CPTED is, in North America at least, the most well known of the environmental crime control (ECC) theories, it is certainly not the only one.

ECC theory focuses on the location of the potential criminal activity, as opposed to social crime prevention theories (which focus on offenders). Elements that fall into the ECC group include the following:

Rational Choice Theory (Ronald V. Clarke) suggests that offenders use a decision-making process where the positive and negative aspects of committing a crime are weighed. If they decide there are more reasons for proceeding, regardless of security barriers, then an attempt will be made. Following this rationalization, it is up to security personnel to convince the potential offender that it is not in their best interests to commit the act. This is done via target hardening. The application of 25 situational crime prevention techniques is the result of this theory.

As rational choice is the theoretical element, what follows are situational crime prevention techniques that are the practical efforts used to reduce criminal opportunities. These techniques involve increasing efforts, increasing risks, removing provocations, removing anticipated rewards and removing excuses. These five techniques are subdivided into five categories to help eliminate opportunities for criminals.

Routine Activity Theory (Cohen and Felson) revolves around a potential offender, a suitable target and the absence of a capable guardian. All three must come together in order for criminal activity to be realized.  Routine activity theory takes the same rational choice methodology as situational crime prevention techniques and uses those as a crime prevention basis.  


Crime Pattern Theory, developed by Canadians Paul and Patricia Brantingham, is a complex amalgamation of rational choice and routine activity theories, with a further introduction of socio-cultural, economic, legal and physical environmental cues. The premise is that crime does not occur randomly in time, place, social group cohesiveness or in other aspects.

Acknowledging the complexity of the theory, a response to prevent crime can come from no other area. Instead, a multi-disciplinary approach must be taken where responses must be tailored to the situation. One must consider the criminal opportunity, the individual offender and their willingness to commit crime, and the combination of the previous three aspects as they affect the socio-cultural, economic, legal and environmental cues.

Displacement of Crime tells us that a determined attacker, if stymied by one method, location, etc., will keep trying until successful. Methods of Displacement include: the time the crime was committed; method used; type of target attacked; location of the act; and type of offence.  

Diffusion of Benefits is the opposite side of the coin when discussing displacement. It is the belief that the benefits of situational crime prevention techniques are moved to other locations, thereby resulting in a decrease in crime. Diffusion tells us that if your neighbour has strong security measures, then you will enjoy the benefits of the same measures in a spillover effect. Not only will the thief be deterred from breaking into your neighbour’s home, they will also be deterred from breaking into yours.  

Glen Kitteringham, M.Sc., CPP, F.SyI. is president of Kitteringham Security Group.

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