Physical Security Series Part 3: Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)

January 20, 2020

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED, pronounced ‘‘sep-ted’’ and also known as Designing out Crime) advocates believe that crime prevention is possible with the use of your property’s physical landscaping and aesthetics (a.k.a. its “built urban form”). As referenced in Part 1 of our Physical Security Blog Series, walls and fences (physical barriers) can be a part of that picture as can historically use iron age forts, castles, and moats.

Coined in 1971 (long after forts and castles were commonplace) but thought to be practiced since early human settlements, CPTED’s goals are to:

  1. Reduce crime
  2. Provide a sense of security
  3. Reduce fear
  4. Increase the quality of life in urban areas

The thought process is simple; since buildings can be designed and built to defend against natural disasters, they should also be designed and built to deter crime. According to, the four main principles of CPTED are:

  1. Natural surveillance
  2. Natural access control
  3. Territorial reinforcement
  4. Maintenance

Natural Surveillance

Physical security is provided using natural surveillance by means of making potential criminals feel constantly exposed, no matter where they are located while on your property. Forms of natural surveillance include:

  1. Keep your outdoor landscaping low to the ground and open-trimmed bushes and trees, smaller decor items (such as planters), avoiding larger items (such as large dumpsters, perhaps large vehicles that don’t move often).
  2. Keep your lighting game strong, especially in areas without natural lines of sight.
  3. Avoid providing places for criminals to hide. This goes for your offices, shops, outbuildings, etc.

PRO TIP: Your security cameras will have a much easier time spotting trouble when there are fewer obtrusions – and – you may require fewer of them with an open layout.


Natural Access Control

Channeling visitors to a defined area is a natural form of access control that can work on both physical and mental levels. Taking away that straight line of direct access also removes their sense of power. Consider things such as curbing and landscaping to help control foot and automobile traffic on your property.


We’ve taught you to think like a criminal in order to deter one, right? In this case, we want you to think about a criminal’s approach to your property and building(s). Is it a direct access situation or are there twists and turns, making it tougher to get from point A to point B? Think about the line at your bank; if something as simple as a maze of tension barriers creates an obstruction, then that indicates that you don’t necessarily have to take extreme measures to effectively prevent crime.


Territorial Reinforcement

A sense of ownership is established when delineating between public and private property. The concept of territorial reinforcement allows for those who are supposed to be present (employees or volunteers, for example) to both feel safe/protected and also allows them to challenge those who aren’t welcome. Encouraging this behavior creates a sense of ownership and belonging versus asking visitors to wear a visitor badge, something that takes away their perceived power.



Your property maintenance goes beyond pride and can be viewed similarly to the domino effect. If the perception is that you aren’t maintaining and caring for your property, then others won’t either. A criminal who sees one broken window might be enticed to break another and it only escalates from there as more crime is invited into an already vandalized property. When property owners and building managers maintain high standards for aesthetics, it sends the message that they also notice and care about what goes on and aren’t likely to stand by and let destruction or crime happen.


We already know that criminals tend to prefer the low-hanging fruit so every step you can take to present a roadblock or challenge is a positive step for the safety of your people, property, and business. Keep in mind that while many of these CPTED concepts are meant for the design and construction of new buildings, they can also be applied to existing buildings. Contact us for more information!