• Center for Problem oriented policing

POP Center Tools Using CPTED in Problem Solving Page 2

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What is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design?

Crime prevention through environmental design is an approach to problem-solving that considers environmental conditions and the opportunities they offer for crime or other unintended and undesirable behaviors. CPTED attempts to reduce or eliminate those opportunities by using elements of the environment to (1) control access; (2) provide opportunities to see and be seen; and (3) define ownership and encourage the maintenanceof territory.§

§ For a more detailed introduction to CPTED, see Crowe (2000), Crowe and Zahm (1994), and National Crime Prevention Council (1997). 

CPTED is unusual when compared with other crime prevention or security measures because it specifically focuses on aspects of the design, while the other measures tend to be directed at target hardening, i.e., denying access to a target using locks and bars, or using sensors and cameras to detect and identify an offender, supported by security guards. CPTED is unusual also when compared to some police activities. This is because CPTED encourages prevention and considers design and place, while policing has traditionally valued an efficient and effective response to incidents, and the identification and arrest of offenders.

CPTED may be distinctly different from traditional policing, yet it is very consistent with problem-oriented policing, in four ways:§§

  1. It considers a broad array of problems, not just crime.
  2. It requires a systematic analysis of crime events and the conditions and factors that contribute to opportunities for crime.
  3. It results in a set of programs or strategies that are proactive and tailored to the problem and the location.
  4. It engages an array of citizens, government agencies, and local institutions, each of which has a role to play in defining the problem and deciding upon an appropriate solution, as well as some accountability for long-term improvements.

§§ Herman Goldstein's book, Problem-Oriented Policing (1990) offers greater detail on these and other aspects of POP.

Crime prevention through environmental design is a relatively new term, but the use of design for safety and security is not. Caves and cliff dwellings, and castles and moats are good historical examples. Requirements for street lighting grew out of a need to distinguish legitimate travelers from outlaws and thieves.

Contemporary approaches, including CPTED, emerged out of research on the relationship between crime and place, theories known variously as environmental criminology, situational prevention, rational choice theory, or routine activities theory, among others.§ Each theoretical approach focuses on the crime event and how a criminal offender understands and uses the environment to commit a crime. Like CPTED, this research asks, why here? The research reveals:

  • crime is specific and situational
  • the distribution of crimes is related to land use and transportation networks
  • offenders are opportunistic and commit crimes in places they know well
  • opportunity arises out of daily routines and activities
  • places with crime are often also places without observers or guardians.

§ See also Newman (1972), Jeffery (1971, 1977), Brantingham & Brantingham (1981, 1984), Clarke (1980, 1992), Cohen & Felson (1979), and Cornish & Clarke (1986).

Crime prevention through environmental design examines crime problems and the ways in which various features of the environment afford opportunities for undesirable and unwanted behaviors. CPTED attempts to remove or reduce these opportunities by changing various aspects of the building, the site, and the location, and how that place is used.

 Ronald Clarke

This is exactly how NOT to do CPTED! 1. It is dreadfully ugly; 2. the walls around the portable bathroom make it impossible to observe undesirable and unwanted behaviors. Credit: Ronald Clarke


These changes are directed toward three basic objectives, each of which is described briefly below, including examples of CPTED strategies: 

1. Control access by creating both real and perceptual barriers to entry and movement. The environment must offer cues about who belongs in a place, when they are supposed to be there, where they are allowed to be while they are there, what they should be doing, and how long they should stay. Users/ guardians can also serve as access control if they pay attention to people and activities and report unwanted behaviors to the appropriate authorities.


  • fences, tree lines, hedges, or berms define the boundaries of a site
  • drives, sidewalks, paths and gardens guide movement through a site
  • gates and doors limit points of entry to a site or building
  • signs direct movement, provide information, define appropriate activities and schedules, and identify intended users (e.g., "Employees Only")
  • consistent use of colors or materials—in buildings, pavers, light fixtures, and landscaping—create an identity
  • design features may be supported by locks, and enhanced with alarm systems or guards, depending on the situation

2. Take advantage of design to provide opportunities to see and be seen. This includes opportunities to see from adjacent properties or the site perimeter onto the site, and possibly to see parking areas and buildings; opportunities to see from one part of the site to another; and opportunities to see parking, walkways, and other areas of the site from various locations inside the building. These design elements need to be supported by potential observers (they actually need to look for and then report unusual behavior), and by policies and procedures, for example, related to landscape maintenance.


  • lighting improves the ability to observe activity and identify individuals
  • windows afford views from inside to outside and outside to inside
  • building location and orientation can create or remove views
  • proper selection of trees, shrubs and other plant species, combined with regular maintenance, can minimize the conflict between lighting and landscaping and ensure that views on, off and around the site are preserved over the long-term
  • furniture arrangements, window treatments and other interior design elements can support observation and encourage guardianship
  • design features may be supported by physical security, CCTV, or guards when circumstances require them.
This ATM is placed well, using good CPTED features and has an unobstructed view from the street and patrolling police.

This ATM is placed well, using good CPTED features and has an unobstructed view from the street and patrolling police. Credit: Randy Atlas

3. Use design to define ownership and encourage maintenance of territories. As mentioned previously, the design should provide cues about who belongs in a place and what they are allowed to do. Administrative support in the form of rules and regulations about use and maintenance can be critical to the success of various design applications.


  • fences, hedges, tree lines or planter boxes separate spaces
  • changes in elevation, or variations in paving or flooring materials, define transitions from public to private spaces
  • gardens, artwork and furniture individualize spaces and show that someone cares and is paying attention
  • signs establish ownership and any limits on use
  • buildings, yards, gardens, sidewalks, and other features are well maintained, clean and in working order, which is a sign of guardianship
  • design features may be supported by locks, alarm systems, CCTV, guards or other security measures in some situations.

Note that while CPTED is a crime prevention program, it focuses on design, not safety, and on productive use, not security. Design features are "supported" by locks, guards and alarms. Target hardening and security measures are not the primary means for improvement. Note, too, that although CPTED is frequently considered the responsibility of police, many of the tools and techniques are things that fall outside the purview of policing. This is why CPTED is a team effort, one that officers participate in but do not necessarily control.

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