5 CPTED Strategies That Protect Students and Staff

Environmental design can reduce victimization, deter crime, reduce fears of a crime happening, and build a sense of community.
Published: November 21, 2022

If you’ve ever lived on the corner of a busy urban street, you’ve most likely considered the possibility of a car crashing through your property. And if so, you probably kept that in mind while updating your landscaping. Maybe you piled up a bunch of big river rocks on the corner or planted a decent-sized tree there. That way, the rocks could slow a car or and the tree would stop it from careening into your house.

Just like landscaping can help keep a car from crashing into your home, it can provide similar protection for various scenarios on a school campus.

How Environmental Design Prevents Crime

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is the use of landscaping to protect the environment around you from crime.

According to Brian Erickson, principal at Davis Partnership Architects and PASS Advisory Council member, CPTED relies on strategic design solutions. The core strategy elements include natural access control, natural surveillance, territorial reinforcement, maintenance and activity support.

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“Statistics suggest CPTED design in general for all building types is effective in reducing crime in the range of 30% to 80%,” Erickson said.

While that might seem like a wide range, preventing crime on your campus by only 30% through this design, is still significant.

CPTED design can help reduce victimization, build a sense of community and belonging on campus, deter someone from committing a crime and reduce fear of a crime happening for staff and students.

Environmental Design Strategies to Implement ASAP

“Successful CPTED design solutions are generally focused on the site and exterior of a facility,” Erickson said. “Each site and building program has their own unique characteristics and the broad nature of CPTED strategies make their implementation flexible to a degree.”

5 Key CPTED Strategies

All effective CPTED solutions will incorporate at least some of the following five key strategies:

  1. Natural Access Control: This will guide the entry sequence from the point of site access to the main building entry. It aims to decrease opportunities for criminal activity by denying access and creating a perception of risk for would-be criminals. “This can be accomplished through the placement of entrances, exits, fences, landscaping and lighting,” Erickson said.
  2. Natural Surveillance: This requires strategic placement of physical features, such as windows, lighting and landscaping. Doing so makes it difficult for someone outside the building perimeter to see inside the building. “Generally, people are more likely to feel safer when they can see and be seen,” Erickson said. “The sense of being seen can discourage acting on ill-intent.”
  3. Territorial Reinforcement: This begins with the definition of property boundaries and semi-public and private areas within the property line. It creates an area of influence where those thinking about committing a crime feel like they don’t belong, Erickson said.
  4. Maintenance: Having maintenance staff on campus grounds regularly usually helps to deter crime. It creates a “sense of guardianship,” Erickson explained. It’s also essential to supporting the natural surveillance strategy, he added. Plus, maintenance staff can prevent overgrown vegetation from blocking sight lines and exterior lights are functioning correctly.
  5. Activity Support: This leverages the presence of staff and students to discourage crime. An active outdoor space supports both natural access control and surveillance strategies.

“Natural surveillance is often a top-of-mind, low-cost means of creating an ability to detect potential criminals early enough to alert on-campus security, building occupants and law enforcement,” Erickson said. “While easy to apply to the design and construction of new schools, it can often be implemented, with minimal additional cost, to school renovations.”

How Environmental Design Helps Students

Environmental design strategies have prevented a wide variety of crimes, such as vandalism, assault and theft, Erickson.

“However, they must be deployed in concert with other traditional methods of crime prevention such as video surveillance, secured entries and other internal measures to have the potential of preventing a crime by anyone with malicious intent,” he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these strategies help deter crime and create a welcoming environment for students and staff. Another study by the National Institutes of Health found that these strategies can improve the overall school experience for students. The study also noted the potential for these strategies to help lower school absenteeism due to safety concerns.

How to Get Help Implementing CPTED Strategies

PASS Guidelines help school districts assess and increase school safety through measures that detect, deter, and delay criminal activity. The guidelines feature layers of school safety and security topics, with students and faculty at the center.

“They incorporate CPTED strategies as well as traditional security concepts employing the latest technology without violating safety measures inherent in current building codes,” Erickson said.

Download the guidelines here. To start, PASS suggests evaluating where your campus is right now. Then, consider what you can do to implement these CPTED strategies within your current layers of campus safety and security.

This blog was originally posted on PASS’s website.

Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series