The 5 Pillars of CPTED: Natural Surveillance
They say the best defense is a good offense.
Taking a proactive approach to protecting your family, your business, and your property is your best offense. It’s the difference between having a security system in place even though you’ve never been a target before and installing one after a robbery so it doesn’t happen again. The former is proactive. The latter is reactive.
Put yourself in the shoes of a would-be burglar. Would you rather hit a building with visible cameras, outdoor lighting, and signage indicating a security system or a dark, unlit house right next door with none of those? It’s no wonder most burglars would choose the unprotected house. In fact, a home without a security system is 300% more likely to be targeted by thieves.
Crime prevention through environmental design—or CPTED—takes that to heart. CPTED is a philosophy that encourages the use of deliberate design elements to eliminate or reduce criminal behavior before it happens.
Those signs by doors that say “This property is protected by Acme Security”? That’s a simple example of CPTED in the real world.
But it’s just one of many.
The Pillars of CPTED
There are many strategies and techniques that fall under the umbrella of crime prevention through environmental design, but there are five primary pillars:
Let’s take a closer look at natural surveillance and how you can use it to limit opportunities for crime to take place.
You’ve heard the expression “two heads are better than one.” Natural surveillance strategies capitalize upon the idea that “more eyes are better than none.”
Increasing the likelihood that a criminal will be seen—or even just the appearance that they’re more likely to be seen—boosts their perceived risk.
The higher the risk of being observed, the smaller the chance they’ll go through with it. Research has shown that the decision to commit a crime or not is more influenced by perceived risk than it is by perceived reward.
“There must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind.” – Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, activist Jane Jacobs argued that our neighbors and other residents are our greatest asset in keeping a neighborhood safe.
We have dozens of “eyes on the street” provided an area is well-lit and open with clear sightlines. Your friends, neighbors, and even strangers are going to intervene or report if they see criminal activity taking place.
And that’s natural surveillance in a nutshell.
Natural Surveillance in the Real World
There’s almost always someone hanging around, and natural surveillance harnesses that fact through the strategic placement of physical features—shrubs, fences, trees, and more—people, and activities.
Increased visibility means more people can watch your property. More people mean more eyes. And more eyes mean more scrutiny and higher risk for would-be offenders.
High hedges may provide a lot of privacy, but they also prevent natural surveillance from happening. If your house or business can’t be seen from the street, it can’t be observed.
By keeping shrubs and plants below window levels, and trimming trees up to at least six feet so they don’t block sightlines, you’re inviting natural surveillance.
By keeping driveways, doors, and other points of entry illuminated, you’re preventing someone from forcing their way in without the potential for witnesses.
And by eliminating dark corners and overgrown vegetation—and using mirrors and lighting to remove blind corners in halls, stairways, and parking lots at your place of business—you’re eliminating hiding spots.
Increase visibility. Decrease the opportunity for crime.
On a larger scale, streetlights and well-lit pathways do the same thing. Always report burnt-out bulbs to the appropriate authority to help keep everyone safe.
Of course, visibility alone isn’t worth much protection. You need people.
You can accomplish this by:
- Encouraging pedestrian use of sidewalks and nearby public spaces
- Using see-through barriers such as low picket or wrought-iron fences, glass walls, and large windows
- Having blinds, curtains, and shutters at least partially open
- Decks, balconies, and front porches that encourage people to spend time outdoors
- Keeping valuable items, checkout counters, and cash registers in plain view and easily visible from outside
- Placing CCTV monitors and security cameras where customers, employees, and passers-by can easily see them
More visibility, more people, more eyes. It’s no coincidence that areas with a Neighborhood Watch program—active eyes on the street—experience up to a 16% reduction in crime.
There are more than one million burglaries in the US each year, and the average value of property stolen is $2,600.
Natural surveillance is an affordable first step in making sure you, your family, and your business are not part of that statistic.