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Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design

We don’t usually notice when the places we go in our daily lives make us feel safe, but we certainly do notice when a place makes us feel unsafe. Environmental features can contribute to our feelings of safety or danger, and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) can help us alter places that give us those “unsafe” signals.
The LSC helps educate property owners, small businesses and community groups on the effectiveness of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design or CPTED (pronounced “SEP-ted”). Some LSC staff are certified in basic and/or advanced CPTED concepts by the nationally recognized Advanced Crime Prevention Institute.
Many problems can be easily addressed through proper design and products commonly found at major home improvement stores. There are four main components of CPTED, Natural Surveillance, Territorial Reinforcement, Natural Access Control and Maintenance.

Natural Surveillance

The placement of physical features, activities and people in a way that maximizes visibility. A potential criminal is less likely to attempt a crime if he or she is at risk of being observed. At the same time, we are likely to feel safer when we can see and be seen.
Promoted by features that maximize visibility of people, parking areas and building entrances: doors and windows that look out on to streets and parking areas; pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and streets; front porches; adequate nighttime lighting. Making the offender’s behavior more easily noticeable will cause potential offender’s to think twice before committing a crime in an area where they feel they may be easily caught.
Natural surveillance increases the threat of apprehension by taking steps to increase the perception that people can be seen. Natural surveillance occurs by designing the placement of physical features, activities and people in such a way as to maximize visibility and foster positive social interaction among legitimate users of private and public space.

Territorial Reinforcement

The use of physical attributes that express ownership such as fences, signage, landscaping, lighting, pavement designs, etc. Defined property lines and clear distinctions between private and public spaces are examples of the application of territoriality. Territoriality can be seen in gateways into a community or neighborhood. It employs design elements such as sidewalks, fences, landscaping, and porches to help distinguish between public and private areas.  Helps users exhibit signs of “ownership” that send “hands off” messages to would-be offenders.
Territorial reinforcement promotes social control through increased definition of space and improved proprietary concern. An environment designed to clearly delineate private space does two things. First, it creates a sense of ownership. Owners have a vested interest and are more likely to challenge intruders or report them to the police. Second, the sense of owned space creates an environment where “strangers” or “intruders” stand out and are more easily identified. Territorial reinforcement measures make the normal user feel safe and make the potential offender aware of a substantial risk of apprehension or scrutiny.

Natural Access Control

Guides people entering and leaving a space through the placement of entrances, exits, fences, landscaping and lighting. Access control can decrease opportunities for criminal activity by denying criminals access to potential targets and creating a perception of risk for would-be offenders.
Clear boundaries should be defined between public, semi-public, and private areas. They are needed at entrances to office buildings, residential buildings, shops, parking lots and garages. Boundaries can be established by signs, walls, fences, landscaping, and pavement treatments.


A well maintained home, building or community creates a sense of ownership. A well-kept area tends to make someone feel like they will be observed by neighbors or business owners as it is obvious people care about the area.
Some common environmental design issues that can lead to criminal activity include:

  • Inadequate or misdirected lighting that creates dark areas
  • Solid or excessively high fences that obstruct view lines
  • Vacant lots full of weeds or debris, lack of trash cans and litter receptacles
  • Inappropriate or poorly maintained vegetation, including too low tree canopies
  • Lack of natural surveillance points created by blank exterior walls or bricked-in windows
  • Unsecured walkthrough areas between dwellings in attached housing

Trees should be trimmed at least 8 feet above the ground. Bushes should be trimmed to less than 3 feet in height, or where higher plants would not block any views, light, or provide hiding places. For example, higher bushes or trees with lower canopies could be planted next to a blank wall or the side of a building.
Protection against graffiti can be obtained by planting vines and thorny bushes next to the sides of buildings, walls, and other design elements that could be vandalized.
Graffiti-resistant paint or anti-graffiti coatings should be used on the sides of the building, walls, and any other design elements that could be vandalized.  Murals on buildings, walls, and other design elements promote neighborhood pride and identity. They also help to deter graffiti.

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