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11Criminology: Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED)

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED)


The notion and idea that the designs of physical environment can either contribute to the decrease or increase in criminal activities is not a new phenomenon (White & White, 2006). Infact, internationally, a number of scholars have studied on the idea over a longer period of time. Generally, there is a consensus and a proposition that certain type of crimes and criminal activities will be greatly reduced and even eliminated if the design of the environment is changed, or improved. In countries such as UK, Canada and Australia, environmental design has contributed to prevention of crime and related criminal activities (Reynald, 2010). There are elements that influence how people and the general community perceive safety, and environmental design is such an important element or factor. This is because people feel safe in other environments and have a feeling of fear in other environments, even if the number of criminal incidences is low. Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a theory whose aim is to prevent crime by laying focus on the design and proper use of the environment in order to reduce both crime and its fear (P. M. Cozens, Saville, & Hillier, 2005). It is trough CPTED that measures dealing with planning and even design of the environment can be capitalized inorder to reduce or even eliminate crime and criminal activities, including eradication of fear. However, in as much as CPTED, in the modern contemporary society has proved to be effective and boasts of quite a number of advantages or benefits, its limitations should not be trashed, and should be adequately acknowledged. This essay, therefore aims at reviewing literature on CPTED and establishing the advantages and disadvantages of CPTED as a crime prevention tool in the modern contemporary society.

Literature Review: Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED)

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a theory whose aim is to prevent crime by laying focus on the design and proper use of the environment in order to reduce both crime and its fear thereby improving on the quality of life (Cozens, Saville, & Hillier, 2005). The sole main aim of CPTED is to reduce and as much as possible eliminate crime and possibilities that lead to it happening in the environment. According to Atlas, Atlas, & Fitzgerald (2008), CPTED is not a reactive model, but rather, it is a preventive and pro-active one. CPTED, being an important element of security design, proofs to be very beneficial, especially if the consideration is taken care of when the pillars of security strategies are being laid. However, to improve on the effectiveness of CPTED as a crime prevention measure, the method should not be used in isolation, but rather should be incorporated with other crime prevention strategies which are environmental and community based (Bahn & Shin, 2014). According to Hedayati Marzbali, et al (2011), CPTED is made up of four core components which include natural surveillance, territorial reinforcement, management and maintenance and natural access control.

According to Hedayati Marzbali, et al (2011), natural surveillance and natural access control as components of CPTED are aimed at working on the perception of potential offenders by keeping them under close observation through denial of access to a given point. Similarly, management and maintenance and territorial reinforcement perfectly work on the assumption that proper design of the environment is important in ensuring that the owner of a given property feels safe and in full control of his or her territory. These four key components, according to Haigh (2006), provide an avenue where deviant activities are eliminated from the society. Particularly, natural surveillance involves the arrangement of features that involve people’s activities in order to capitalize surveillance of activities at the right place and time, which, in the long run, leads to reduced crime incidences through crime discouragement (Reynald, 2010).

There are forms of designs known as activity support which can be implemented in public areas. Activity support concept is based on the fact that crime offenders like to work in place with limited or no observation at all. The concept, according to Clancey (2015), recommends that perfect natural surveillance can be boosted through proper landscaping that allows residents; passersby as well as neighbors have a view of what’s taking place in a residential area. According to Parnaby (2007), criminal activities can, to a greater extent, be reduced and even possibly eliminated if the influx of people to and from a certain specific area can be monitored and controlled. This involves development and implementation of a design that controls human traffic (Han & Park, 2015).

The concept of territoriality focuses on ensuring that zones within the community where residents stay are appropriately identified in order to ensure that people get and remain connected consequently allowing them to offer protection to their community (Paul Cozens & van der Linde, 2015). The concept maximizes on the concept of improved physical security in order to cultivate a propriety sense among citizens whilst further cultivating an environment where citizen intervention is encouraged (Cozens & Love, 2015). It involves the use of physical design to encourage a sense of propriety among citizens while, at the same time, creating environments where the perceived probability of resident intervention is encouraged (Parnaby, 2007). Similarly, the concept of territoriality works on ensuring that instances of crime are eliminated by developing barriers that are meant to classify property zones as either private or public.

Advantages of CPTED

Firstly, CPTED focuses on the physical environment with an aim of preventing and eliminating crime in the long run. According to Steve Lab in his book “Crime prevention: Approaches, Practices and Evaluations” (2010), CPTED theory was developed out of a concept advocated by Oscar Newman known as the concept of “Defensible space”. According to him, defensible space is a model, which prevents crime by improving on the physical environment of the surrounding area. CPTED is an effective crime prevention technique which uses both natural and artificial surveillance, proper lighting and institution of obstacles (Sohn, 2016).

Secondly, CPTED has reduced human interference in the security system since CPTED focuses on the location of criminal activities. Humans are always human, and are subject to lots of limitations (Cozens, Saville, & Hillier, 2005). For instance, a successful design and implementation of a human watch program is negatively influenced by the level of employment and sleep schedules because the implication is that, most people, if not working, are sound asleep during the ideal hours of crime (Timothy & Institute, 2000). Security rehabilitation programs are highly dependent on the willingness and the level of dedication of people involved in crime prevention. CPTED proofs to be beneficial in such instances because whatever makes it successful are the key components of the system which include territoriality and surveillance, concepts which do not require any sleep. For instance, watchmen may sleep or may need time to be with their loved ones but a CCTV camera is 24/7 and won’t need any rest, and will effectively counter crime (Timothy & Institute, 2000).

Thirdly, CPTED increases chances of getting crime offenders (Timothy, Crowe & Fennelly, 2013). This is because the mere availability or presence of a CCTV camera is equally sufficient to deter crime from happening and boosts on self-awareness. For instance, the availability of police cars in dangerous and high risk streets won’t be as effective in deterring or preventing crime as it would be in the case of CCTV camera presence (Timothy, Crowe & Fennelly, 2013). However, in as much as the availability of CCTV cameras may be slow in serving justice, its ability to deter crime from happening increases chances of catching up with an offender. In fact, according to Steven Lab (2010), CPTED operates on the particular assumption that offenders, including potential ones, are greatly influenced by the concept of “cost benefit analysis” of an action, meaning that they consider the cost and benefits implicated in a given crime action. Therefore, according to Steve Lab, the higher the probability or chance of being caught, the lower the likely hood of occurrence of a crime.

Lastly, CPTED if very flexible and is applicable in various environments, hence proofing to be the most effective crime prevention tool in the modern environment where changes do occur and crime execution techniques advance day in day out (Henze, 2006). In fact, studies show that CPTED is the most effective crime prevention tool and has similarly proved to be the easiest tool to fix.

Disadvantages of CPTED

Firstly, CPTED requires continued and maximum cooperation from the members of the community. Therefore, CPTED is a technique that won’t work in isolation on its own and will require human input which comes with its own limitations (Jung & Kim, 2015). In fact, the apathy found in a community setup greatly influences the full operation of CPTED as a crime prevention and deterrence mechanism. Therefore, CPTED mechanisms won’t work on their on without human intervention. For example, in as much as there could be availability of light in a given crime prone area, the availability of a human being to undertake monitoring is important (Lee, 2013). This is because light on its own without the presence of an individual can’t be effective in deterring criminal activities

Secondly, the availability of CPTED can be ignored, hence allowing crime to occur. While appreciating the fact that most methods employed to prevent crime are also deterring methods, some crime offenders either don’t recognize that crime prevention tools are present or they just ignore possibly because the benefit of the crime outweighs the cost of its involvement, hence out beating on the deterrence goal (Cozens, Saville, & Hillier, 2005). In fact, according to a study carried out by Gibson & Johnson, (2013), it was found that the availability of CCTV cameras in a premise is in fact a challenge, and not even a deterrence mechanism. This therefore shows that most of CPTED mechanisms are ignored by crime offenders, thereby outbeating deterrence.

Thirdly, CPTED is expensive to implement and therefore comes with its cost implications (White & White, 2006). For instance, a decision to block a given highway due to its frequency of crime is something that is so expensive and bureaucratic, defeating the efforts of an individual person, and therefore necessitates that people team up (Johnson, Gibson, & McCabe, 2014). In fact the implementation of such proposal necessitates that a clear outlined protocol is followed which is time consuming and in the long run, turns out to be expensive. Consequently, owing to its intensive input in terms of time and money, citizens may become powerless and discouraged therefore leading to inability to execute crime prevention measures in their respective communities.


There are a number of crime prevention strategies or techniques, but of all known techniques, Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) is comparatively new and since its inception, design and implementation in the late 1970’s, CPTED has proved to be the most effective crime prevention strategy in the contemporary society. Should the strategy be properly and wholly embraced by the contemporary society, CPTED is more beneficial compared to other crime prevention strategies. Additionally, CPTED, being a relatively new strategy, is extremely easy to “fix” when required. However, the strategy does not come without its limitations. The effectiveness of CPTED as a crime prevention strategy comes at a cost, therefore making it relatively expensive to implement. Similarly, though it is said to deter crime, criminal incidences have proved wrong its ability to deter crime in the modern contemporary society especially in instances where criminals feel that the benefit of undertaking a crime outweigh its cost. Crimes vary and interventions and strategies designed to counter them vary as well. Interventions of environmental design and plan are meant to address or solve certain types of crimes and therefore, clear analysis of different situations is important before deciding to venture on a given particular intervention. In conclusion therefore, because of its high level of flexibility and its ability to quickly adapt to various environments, CPTED is an effective and promising tool that helps fight crime in the contemporary society.


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