Last reviewed 4 November 2021

Many businesses are blighted by criminal acts. One possible strategy for countering criminal activity is crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). Mike Sopp examines a new international standard on CPTED and its implications.

The latest figures available from the Home Office indicate that many sectors suffer from crime, but the wholesale and that the retail sector in particular experienced the highest levels of crime, with 10.1 million incidents of crime recorded in 2018.

There are a range of strategies that a business can employ to counter criminal activity. One such strategy is through the concept of “crime prevention through environmental design” (CPTED).

Although not new, this approach was given fresh impetus through the publication in early 2021 of an international standard for the application of CPTED in new and existing buildings.

Concept

The origins of CPTED can be traced back to the United States in the 1960s, when considerable urban renewal was taking place. However, it was in the 1970s that CPTED was first formally introduced as a concept. Since then it has grown in use. For example, in the UK, the police security initiative “Secured by Design” employs the principles of CPTED.

The concept of CPTED originated in the field of criminology and the various theories and studies associated with opportunistic criminal behaviour. There are obviously many, varied and sometimes complex reasons why people commit crimes, but it is thought that opportunity is the most influential.

This is often combined with what is known as the “rational choice theory” in which a criminal weighs up the potential reward of the act against the risk. In doing so, they either consciously or sub-consciously consider a number of factors.

  • Whether they will be seen.

  • If they are seen, will they be noticed committing the act?

  • If they are seen and noticed, will anyone react?

Given that it has been reported that in the UK the risk of prosecution of a person who commits a criminal offence is 5% overall, and that in regard to theft within a business the rate is even lower, the need to prevent crime in the first place is obvious.

CPTED can be seen as a primary crime prevention tool that aims to use design to remove crime opportunities and enhance the perceived risk of the criminal being detected and apprehended. In other words, it aims to change the behaviour of the would-be criminal through built in design elements.

CPTED is based on a number of concepts. These include:

  • natural access control: aims to discourage and prevent unwanted access to areas that are poorly monitored, utilising a range of gates, doors, fences, fauna, and other barriers to decrease criminal accessibility

  • natural surveillance: allows individuals to be able to easily observe the space around them while engaged in day-to-day activities; at the same time it eliminates unobserved “hiding spots” for people wishing to engage in criminal activity and anti-social behaviour

  • territorial reinforcement: relates to ownership of areas and the demarcation of what is considered public space, semi-public space, and private space; clear designation makes it easier to understand and participate in using the area in the correct way; those who do not are more evident and, combined with the natural surveillance, more likely to stand out

  • maintenance: processes are in place to ensure that a development is free from signs of disorder; this signals that the area is cared for.

BS ISO 22341

Early 2021 saw the publication of BS ISO 22341: Security and Resilience — Protective security — Guidelines for Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.

Commenting on its publication, the project lead stated that with more jurisdictions requiring CPTED, “it is important for CPTED stakeholders and practitioners to clearly understand the fundamental principles, scope, roles of institutions, elements, strategies and processes”.

The new standard begins by noting that CPTED now has a sound “theoretical foundation based on firm evidence of significant crime and fear reduction”.

It then defines CPTED as the “process for analysing and assessing crime and security risks to guide development, urban design, site management and the use of the built environment in order to reduce crime and the fear of crime, and to promote and improve public health, quality of life, and sustainability”.

Based upon this definition, the standard builds a CPTED framework on the following:

  • environmental context of crime and security risk by identifying the assets, the threats to them and the vulnerabilities that may enable the threats to materialise

  • basic concepts of CPTED strategies and their application at the planning, design and site/social management stages

  • the CPTED process steps and the principles to be applied during those steps.

It is worth noting that the standard introduces the term “capable guardianship”, which is defined as “willingness to supervise, detect and take action to prevent or discourage the occurrence of crime”.

This emphasises that those responsible for security in a building cannot assume that the installation of security measures alone will ensure resilience against security threats. Rather, the maintenance of the security environment requires close attention and site guardianship in the manner described.

In Practice

As noted above, the standard provides a framework of three elements. In terms of the context as it relates to crime, the standard says that “better understanding of the risk and CPTED considerations leads to a better selection of tailored countermeasures”.

It does not provide a detailed approach to security risk assessing or management but makes reference to existing standards that may be utilised, such as ISO31000.

For the practical application of CPTED, the standard notes that there are two CPTED concepts, these being:

  • physical CPTED, which includes the 4 concepts noted earlier together with the addition of activity support and site hardening / target hardening

  • social CPTED, which includes social cohesion, social connectivity, community culture and threshold capacity.

It then requires these to be applied at the planning, design and site/social management stages, providing further information as to how to apply the concepts at each stage.

Section 6 of ISO 22341 then describes the process for implementing CPTED, which involves the following steps:

  1. Communication and consultation

  2. Scope, context and criteria

  3. Risk assessment

  4. Risk treatment

  5. Monitoring, reviewing, recording and reporting.

It then details the general principles involved at this stage, which include taking a balanced, cost-effective and sustainable approach.

The key outcomes from this process are, then, seen as setting the priorities for the CPTED strategy and the identification of the CPTED options for treating the risk.

Finally, the standard contains 2 annexes that provide further detail on the key considerations for CPTED and fundamental principles of CPTED.

Summary

Crime prevention through environmental design is not a new concept but for those unfamiliar with the concept it can be a daunting prospect to apply.

With many initiatives such as Secured by Design already utilising the concept, it is now well-established that the concept can reduce crime.

The introduction of an international standard now means there is a common approach to the application of CPTED.

The standard has “grown” the concept and clearly links the application of the CPTED concept to crime risk assessment and risk management.