• Center for Problem oriented policing

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Defining and Understanding the Problem

One unique aspect of using CPTED for problem-solving is the array of data and information that must be gathered and analyzed. While crime, fear and victimization are critical considerations, an environmental evaluation needs to include information that is neither law enforcement-based nor related to crime, for example, land use and zoning, housing code or health code violations, or traffic volumes and pedestrian activity. Quality of life issues such as trash and litter, weeds, vacant lots, and declining property values are also considered, as these problems often have a more debilitating impact on a community on a day-to-day basis. They can also be symptoms of, or precursors to, crime.

The purpose of the environmental evaluation is two-fold:

1. It is required in order to precisely define the problem.
2. Data analysis results in a better understanding of the building, site, or neighborhood context — the environmental conditions in which the problem is situated.

The intricacy of the analysis ultimately depends on three conditions, which are described in greater detail below:

  • First, data and information requirements will be determined by the circumstances surrounding, and the setting of, an existing or emerging crime problem.

Table 2 considers the various types of information that might become part of an environmental evaluation. Much of the data and information on the list is available from existing sources and agency records; however, significant and necessary pieces of information can sometimes only be obtained through interviews, surveys and observations. Safety audits and security surveys need to be specifically tailored to the facility, the site, or the neighborhood, and in most cases, must be handled by someone who is knowledgeable about locks, lighting, or other aspects of security.

The list of data elements in Table 2 is a general one, and not all of the items will be necessary for every problem-solving activity. The overall goal is to inventory existing conditions and document emerging trends related to a specific problem in a specific location — to answer the question, why here? Four types of scenarios are possible, and each suggests a different kind of data collection strategy:

1. A specific crime or other problem is occurring at a single location (e.g., the school vandalism, graffiti, and ATM robbery cases), or a crime problem at a specific type of facility (e.g., robbery at several convenience stores).

2. A specific crime or other problem is limited to a defined geographic area.

3. A general crime problem or an array of problems is experienced by residents and businesses in a particular geographic area.

4. The potential for future problems emerges as an outcome of proposed development or facility redesign.

  • Second, the amount of data that can be collected and analyzed is a function of the amount of time allotted for the analysis.

Data collection and analysis can be a time consuming process, and adequate time is not always available. In some instances, public or other, pressures for an immediate response to the problem will strip away any opportunity for analysis. In such cases, evaluation becomes even more critical, to understand the impact of the intervention and to give greater definition to the original problem or any other issues that emerge as a result of the decision to intervene.

  • Third, support resources like staff and funding must be available for the analysis.

Table 2 is also a reminder that crime prevention through environmental design is best undertaken by a team of departments and individuals in collaboration with community representatives. Experience has shown that CPTED strategies are most effective when those who are impacted by the problem are engaged in problem-solving and take ownership for the solution. The entire problem-solving process is enhanced when stakeholders are included early on, for example, by organizing a CPTED task force or by using community volunteers to help with data collection.

Table 2: Understanding the Problem

Data and Information Commonly Used in an Environmental Analysis

Examples of Information Collected:RationaleSource(s), Availability and Responsibility
Crime Data

calls for service

reported crime: total crime, crime rate, crime type

crime trends

spatial distribution: crime location(s), "hot spots"

temporal distribution: times of day, days of the week, seasonal changes

MO (modus operandi, or how the crimes are carried out): target characteristics, victim characteristics, offender characteristics

Analysis of calls for service and crime incidents gives greater clarity to the problem and also some direction with regard to the other types of data and information that will need to be collected.

Crime data is collected and maintained by the police agency (records division or crime analysis unit) or by the localitys management information systems department.

Crime mapping and geographic information systems (GIS) may be the responsibility of the police agency, or may be handled by another department, e.g., p lanning, engineering, or utilities.

Population Characteristics

age and gender

race and ethnicity

family or household size and composition

family or household income

Community characteristics are helpful for thinking about routines and activities and the potential for victimization. They may also suggest a focus for crime prevention programs or other interventions.

Population demographics are available through the U.S. Census (see www.census.gov), which is regularly updated for larger localities through the American Community Survey. Smaller communities or neighborhoods must be updated using surveys unless another agency has already undertaken this work.

Institutional and Organizational Relationships

neighborhood association/homeowners' association

block watch/neighborhood watch group

churches, clubs, public/private schools, hospitals, community centers or other neighborhood-based institutions

local development corporations and other nonprofits engaged in work in the neighborhood

Community organizations and local institutions play several roles related to the problem-solving process and the implementation of crime prevention through environmental design strategies:

- they represent stakeholders, and may be able to gather input from individuals who would otherwise be unavailable

- they have access to data and information

- their members and/or staff may be able to assist with surveys and interviews

- the institutional facilities can serve as sites for meetings

- they may have resources to commit to solving the problem

Locating complete lists for community associations and nonprofit organizations is often difficult; however, several opportunities are available. The neighborhood planning unit should maintain a list of neighborhood associations, and the police agency should have information about Neighborhood Watch groups in the community. Information about community centers and other institutions may be found through an Information and Referral Service or an online locator (e.g., www.GuideStar.org). Other options include the local interfaith council or ministerial association, a volunteer center, or the social services department.

Land Use and Development Patterns

land use: type and mix of land uses, # residential buildings/dwelling units, # office/commercial buildings / spaces or total square feet of leasable space, # businesses by business type

major facilities, landmarks or attractions, e.g., parks, schools

property ownership (public/private)

natural resources and attractive nuisances, e.g., lakes, rivers, streams, rocks

development rules and regulations outlined in zoning, subdivision, landscaping or other ordinances

neighborhood stability: housing or building condition, tenure (owner-renter mix), occupancy / vacancy rates, turnover (new sales, new leases, new vacancies)

property values: average rent, average sales price, assessed value

development activity: construction permits, demolition permits, occupancy permits

violations and citations: building code, housing code, health code

The mix of uses determines the kinds of activities that take place in a building/site/area, when and where they happen, and who participates in them.

Items such as housing condition or turnover do not cause problems, but are symptoms or outcomes of issues. They are indicators of reinvestment or disinvestment in the neighborhood, or a general lack of care, and disrespect for property and community.

Information on existing land use and future development is the responsibility of the planning department (comprehensive planning unit, long-range planning, zoning administration, development review).

Property data is housed with the assessor. Some statistics, such as turnover or average rent, may be gathered from real estate advertisements or local agents. The U.S. Census (www.census.gov) also collects data on housing costs.

Business information may be handled by either the planning or economic development departments.

Many localities now have online GIS systems that include information on land use, zoning, ownership, assessed value and other property characteristics. The system may be administered by a single person or organization (possibly even a consulting firm), or multiple departments may be responsible for maintaining data related to their areas of responsibility.

Permits and violations are handled by zoning administration, codes enforcement, or the public health agency.

Traffic, Transportation and Transit Systems

transportation networks: interstate and other highways, major intersections, local and regional connector routes, pedestrian and bike ways (sidewalks, trails, greenways, etc.), site circulation, ingress and egress, on- and off-street parking spaces/lots/garages

traffic: common origin/destination sites and travel routes, daily/weekly volumes, peak (rush hour) loads, accidents

transit system: ridership and user characteristics, routes and schedules, transit stops / shelters / centers, transfer locations

neighborhood complaints: speeding, cruising, loitering

Patterns of crime and other problems are often related to patterns of movement that bring people to and through sites, neighborhoods, localities and regions.

Road and traffic information for most localities is a function of the state transportation department. Regional transportation planning agencies should also have this information.

Neighborhood- or site-related traffic issues will require new studies, local data collection and observations of traffic flows, turning movements, or other traffic-related activity.

The transit company should maintain information on its system and operations. Most complaints are wagered with the police agency.

Resident/User Surveys or Stakeholder Interviews§

define and explain the problem (real or perceived)

victimization: reported, unreported, reasons for not reporting

fear: where people are afraid, why people are afraid

schedules and activities during an average day / week / month / season

concerns, attitudes, opinions and suggestions about neighborhood quality of life

The purpose of interviews and surveys is to gain insight into circumstances and conditions that are otherwise undocumented; for example, unreported victimization and fear

Interviews and surveys are generally undertaken by the individual tasked with the problem-solving process, possibly with the assistance of others engaged in the process, e.g., neighborhood residents. Additional support may also be available through local colleges and universities. The survey process can elicit information about when and where problems are occurring, and this may reduce the need for on-site observations.

All require the development of, and training on, data collection protocols to ensure validity and reliability.

On-site Observations

problem behaviors: loitering, vandalism and graffiti, public drinking, drug sales or drug use, gang activity

legitimate play or other activities

distribution of activities: when activities are most likely to occur, where activities take place

user characteristics: age, gender, race / ethnicity resident, owner, staff / employee, patrons, invited visitors, others

consistency between reported behaviors and observed activities

Observations should reinforce the results of surveys and interviews (when the observed activities are consistent with reported behaviors), and should offer support for crime statistics and other data and documentation.


Safety Audits and Security Surveys

building and site characteristics: floor plans, site design and layout, ingress / egress, circulation and parking, plant materials and landscape elements, lighting

crime prevention and security measures: locking systems and key control, lighting and illumination, CCTV, security maintenance and repair, emergency operations plans, security policies and procedures

operations: staffing; activities and schedules; rules, regulations, policies, and procedures

Audits and security surveys provide details the other sources of information do not, specifically with regard to building or site conditions, target hardening and security measures, etc. They also begin to expose connections between the problem and staffing or policy.

Security surveys may also reveal gaps or weaknesses in data collection or data availability, and therefore suggest that improved information should be one of the goals for the future


Depending on the location and the type of problem, police personnel (crime prevention unit) may be able to train homeowners and business managers to perform their own evaluations. Generally though, when a security survey is warranted, this should be handled by a knowledgeable professional.

§ Also refer to the Bureau of Justice Assistance (1993) monograph, A Police Guide to Surveying Citizens and Their Environment.

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