Facility Security, Grounds Security

Is CPTED Still in Use Today?

The security concept known as CPTED—or Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design—started back in the 1970s with the publication of architect Oscar Newman’s book, Defensible Spaces. His thinking has influenced building designers, facility maintenance directors, security consultants, and even police agencies since that time. The question today is, does it still work?

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The CPTED approach focuses on five areas to deter, reduce, or minimize the possibility or likelihood of crime in or near a public agency, private sector building, schools, or residence: (1) surveillance, (2) access control, (3) territoriality, (4) maintenance, and (5) activity support. Each of these five provisions builds upon and links to the others.

Surveillance. We can use people; security equipment; alarms; police or security patrol activities; security policies and procedures; and the inherent, intuitive design of the existing property to create a perception of safety for legitimate users (e.g., employees, taxpayers, vendors, visitors, homeowners) and a strong likelihood of detection for unauthorized individuals.

Access control. Put simply, this concept “keeps good people in and bad people out.” By using employee, homeowner, or neighbor vigilance; security access control devices, like key cards; and new or updated door locks, we can limit or prevent access to those who do not have a legitimate reason to be in or around our facility or residence.

Territoriality. This promotes neighborhood pride in local properties by creating a “community,” using lighting, landscaping, repairs, litter and graffiti control, parking enforcement, etc., to make it “our building or school,” as opposed to just, “the building or the school.” This helps discourage trespassing, transients, vandalism, loitering, and unauthorized use of the facility by outsiders.

Maintenance. This concept suggests we “keep on keeping on” by building upon existing security procedures, devices, equipment, and controls. By making repairs and improvements before any incident forces us to consider them, we can maintain the effectiveness and high levels of security we desire.

Activity support. This concept includes ongoing work by the organization to support the concepts of CPTED in current and future safety, security, risk management, and crime prevention projects. This requires a review of security incidents and the changing face of what needs to be protected and how to do it in a cost-effective, feasible manner.

Critics of CPTED argue that the title of the concept should be changed to “deterrence” rather than “crime prevention,” since the ideas in the approach merely create a deterrence posture, instead of actually stopping crime. It’s always difficult to prove a negative, especially when it comes to what drives crooks away from a particular target and toward another one. Does actually putting thorny bushes in front of windows prevent would-be burglars from using that access point? Can’t security cameras offer better coverage than what passing citizens or employees might see and report?

Since law enforcement has embraced the concept at its onset, it’s clear that CPTED will still be a part of crime prevention and security thinking going forward, for both public facilities, private sector businesses, K–12 schools, and individual homes. Supporters point to lower overall security costs—and more creative solutions—than just the standard “more cameras, more gates, and more bars” thinking.

3 thoughts on “Is CPTED Still in Use Today?”

  1. First off – does anybody else read or comment on these articles? I do read them and have commented on a few to start a dialogue, never get any responses. Come on people there is some good stuff here. Get involved.

    I do believe in designing a building to promote effective security all the way down to reception areas in individual suites. This not only provides what I do believe is a deterrent (maybe only to the less motivated or who is looking for a softer target), but also can foster a security mentality for the employees and patrons if cultivated by the administration. It has to be reinforced, as to the reasons and importance of security and the limitations of its capabilities. Physical security is only as effective as the people who are present and adhere to the policies. People are ultimately the best security and it is important that they are observant and will report any unusual situations. I believe an effective security program should include building design, physical security measures, employee education (both preventive and emergency response) and constant review and improvement. Leave any piece out and you have less then effective security.

    I currently am creating an education program for all employees on how to deal with difficult people, how to defuse potentially violent people as well as how to recognize a potential real threat (either in an patron or employee). They have beat the active shooter response training to death, but have failed to provide any training in early recognition and possible prevention of these situations. The building is poorly designed and practically has no physical security which I am attempting to remedy, but have very limited funding at hand. So I am at least trying to do something in the interim to improve the situation. I feel that once the staff, faculty and administration become more educated as to the need and importance of security (building access control, redesigning suite reception areas, key card access and camera monitoring of entry and hallways) I feel that these proposals will gain more traction.

    Any thoughts?

    1. Awareness is the key. I think the true challenge, especially within a work environment, is to create and foster a sense of community. If the folks working in an area felt a greater sense of community, then they would be less hesitant to challenge those who appear not to belong or are/or have been engaged in “suspicious activity”.
      I appreciate your challenges, but be assured you are not fighting such battles alone. Many of us are fighting similar battles on a daily basis across the nation.

    2. Chief Engells is right, creating and maintaining a greater sense of community is the mortar between the bricks of CPTED. In fact when CPTED fails, it is usually within the tenants of Territoriality and Activity Support. If whoever owns or manages the space in question doesn’t see the value in what you are trying to create, you will walk the rest of the way uphill.
      Community will often occur naturally in places where it is most needed. For instance in rural communities where reliance upon one another is vital to establish community welfare and existence, Community is common place. Which is why a guy driving down a gravel road will throw his arm out the window of the truck and wave to you even if he’s never seen you before and knows he may never see you again. He recognizes that he may need to rely upon your help in the future so he forms that brief but important first step in building Community with you.
      But our cell phones and computers over time have allowed us to become less reliant upon one another to exist in a space like a big city. And the philosophy of building “Community” in the Territoriality component of CPTED can be seen as something that gets in the way of productivity in today’s workplace. In the 70’s and 80’s everyone didn’t carry a cell phone and companies hadn’t learned yet that they could still function with less employees and wring out of the few they had the necessary measure of effort to continue to create whatever it was that they produced.
      Those transformations were allowed to occur out of necessity in the beginning of the recession, but they became cemented in corporate culture by design post-recession. After that occurred, building what is arguably the most important facet of CPTED in the incredibly busy and arch competitive environment of big business environments today got a lot tougher to accomplish. In my opinion, although CPTED is as valuable today in accomplishing the objective it was created for as it ever was, it is much more difficult to accomplish and as such not seen in play today as often as it was in the 80’s and 90’s.

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