Building Design to Thwart Crime

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design against crimeThe idea of constructing the built environment in a way that reduces the opportunities for crime has formally been in existence since the 1970s. But can it work?

C. Ray Jeffrey, from Florida State University, first coined the phrase ‘Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design’ (CPTED) in 1971 with the publication of his book of the same name.

In a nutshell, research suggests that the design of a building helps to determine whether or not criminals decide to commit crime. When assessing the potential opportunity to commit a crime, of primary concern to a would-be criminal is whether or not they are likely to get caught. If the likelihood is high, or higher than a location next door or down the road, it is much more likely that the criminal will walk away.

Experts in CPTED tend to divide how the built environment can help to reduce crime into three categories: Increasing the perception that criminals can be seen, restricting access and classifying space, and provoking a sense of ownership of space.

Natural surveillance
If criminals believe they can be seen, they are unlikely to commit a crime. A number of methods can be employed to create this perception:
• Locating on a busy road with a lot of traffic is often a deterrent to criminals, as they are more likely to be seen.
• Leave window shades and blinds open. People could potentially be looking through a window even from far across a room. Conversely, leaving shades and blinds open could display the steal-able goods on offer inside and provide an insight into the building’s interior, so make a measured judgment on this.
• Windows overlooking pavements and car parks can deter crime both in the building and on the street.
• Potential problem areas should be well-lit. Problem areas could include pathways, stairs, entrances and exits. All lighting should be implemented at a strategic height to light the faces of people in the area. This will also help to identify potential attackers.

Natural access
There are a number of measures homeowners and businesses can adopt to control access to property and to highlight intruders:
• There should be one, easily distinguished point of entry. Opportunistic criminals won’t have an excuse to go looking for another entrance if it’s made obvious in the first place. If it’s a residential property, a locking gate should be in place to prevent access to the back.
• In corporate offices, visitors should be clearly directed towards the reception area and should not be able to access any other part of the building without the authority of an employee.
• Public bathrooms should use maze entrances. Anterooms can cause isolation.
• Low, thorny bushes below ground level windows can be enough to deter potential burglars.
• Residential properties should also have waist-high picket-style fencing at the front of it. Not only does it control access to a property or private land, but defines the boundary to make it easy for neighbours and passers-by to spot intruders.
• Fencing in between neighboring properties should be shoulder-high. Although it’s less private, the ability for neighbors to see over the fence will deter intrusion and the potential for criminality. Robust, high fencing should be used between a property and an alleyway or other public pathway.

Ownership of Space
The built environment can help to effect how spaces are used and communicate that to potential criminals:
• If a premises looks well-maintained and has neat landscaping, it suggests that the area is actively and regularly used, acting as a natural deterrent to criminals.
• Display official signs to communicate that security systems are in use.
• Trees in residential areas and public outdoor spaces make an area significantly more attractive than spaces without trees. In addition to providing seating and refreshments in common or public spaces, this will encourage people to use the area more and keep criminals away. Furthermore, scheduling activities in common areas increases the perception that the areas are being both watched and closely managed.
• Cyclone fencing and razor-wire fencing can suggest that there are no people inside. Opposing their aim, this can actually make the property a safer option to break into as the risk of getting caught is minimized.

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