CPTED and Crime Analysis

The Importance of Places

The rise of the family of “place-based” crime prevention strategies, including crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) (Jeffrey 1971, 1977. ), defensible space (Newman 1973), environmental criminology, (Lynch, 1960, Chapin 1974, the Brantinghams, 1993) and situational crime prevention (Clarke 1977, 1980) set a predicate for the evolution of modern geographic information systems (GIS) crime mapping, the use of GPS in crime scene forensics, risk terrain modeling (RTM), and related digital systems that locate and predict crime and the pathways of crime. The early authors of place-based CPTED strategies resisted the dominant crime prevention paradigms of the day by stressing the importance of places and times (especially environmental criminology and situational crime prevention) in crime analysis and prevention. CPTED suggests the threats and crime vulnerabilities to look for relative to the uses/designs of places and spaces while crime mapping allows us to overlay incidents (as well as calls for service) on visually intelligible terrains and then statistically compare venues, themes, and virtually any element with another (so long as the data is relatively clean and available).

As digital technology and methodologies continue to advance, the lines between substance–CPTED—and process—GIS mapping—have become increasingly blurred, as in the case of RTM and predictive policing. In all cases, however, the values of places and times where crimes occur matter a great deal. CPTED principles furthered the idea that criminal events can be understood within spatial and temporal patterns of urban places relative to a city’s physical structure and context. However, the CPTED theory and practice has not kept pace with new advances in computerized crime pattern identification.

As notions of place-based crime prevention slowly gained traction in the 1970s and early 1980s, they were quite different from the dominant crime prevention paradigms of the day, which concentrated on environmental conditions as causative agents, e.g., “slums breed criminals”; on punitive correctional systems that reduced crime, which did not seem to work; and on treatment or punitive models where offenders were considered to be “ill” and their psychological or social maladies could be addressed through treatments or punishment.

Rather, CPTED-related theories concentrated on places themselves as being important. As Sherman, et al., (1997) noted, “wheredunit” was as important as “whodunit.” (p. 36-37). Indeed, C. Ray Jeffrey’s original CPTED conception emphasized the intimate relationship between the physical environment, the learning organism, and behavior, so that the environment could be manipulated to prevent or, more likely, deter criminal behavior. Indeed, a basic tenant of CPTED ideologues remains that “the proper design of the built environment can lead to a reduction in the fear of crime and incidence of crime (Crowe, 2000: 1).

In short, places matter a great deal.

But, It was not until the 1950s that a little-known Chicago sociologist named Elizabeth Wood (1961, 1967) suggested that places themselves were important variables (risk factors) in the commission and contexts of crime. Wood’s ideas were noticed by few, although one architect who did pay attention to her insights was Oscar Newman, who built on her research to draw fundamental design conclusions based on place and space. Though scholars and others criticized his work on methodological grounds as too deterministic, his seminal book, Defensible Space strongly argued that places and spaces mattered relative to offending.  At the time this notion was billed as revolutionary by the New York Times (1973).

The introduction of the concept of “defensible space” led designers and politicians to look at the physical contexts of crime and the role that bad or risky design played in its generation. Despite much criticism, Newman’s work influenced generations of US and UK planners and policy makers, including former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros. Cisneros became skeptical of the dominant practices at the time that supported building taller and bigger public housing projects that stacked poor people higher and higher within concentrated areas and toxic buildings. Newman deconstructed one such project, Pruitt-Igoe, an AIA award-winning public housing development in St. Louis, to demonstrate the fundamental importance of place and physical design in influencing behavior, and especially bad behavior. He questioned why an adjacent community, Carr Village, which was a low-rise public housing project containing tenants with similar socio-economic and ethnic profiles, had much lower crime rates and numbers of incidences relative to Pruitt-Igoe.  The answers, he suggested, had to do with the importance of place, design, and the anonymity produced by large scale, undifferentiated housing. What emerged from his research was a group of themes and strategies that dealt with territoriality, surveillance, access control, boundary-making, and image and milieu (which laid the predicate for the “Broken Window” theory). Other strategies, such as “activity generation” and community consultation have since been added to the basic formulation as time has passed.

The connection of places: routine activities, pathways, and activity nodes

Following Newman, the advancement of environmental criminology in the 1980s and 90s was of central importance to the development of GIS crime mapping. Its heritage traces back to Lynch (1960), Chapin (1974), the Brantinghams and Rondeau (1995) relative to the delineation of activity nodes, paths, and edges of urban places. It focused on the characteristics of the environment in which crime occurs or is likely to occur as distinct from how or where the motivations of offenders originates. It incorporates routine activity and rational choice theory in seeking to explain “criminal events in the context of normal movements through normal settings in the course of everyday life” (Brantingham, 1991, p. 2). To the Brantinghams, crime patterns could be discerned given connections among geographic, environmental, and temporal targets and offenders and not just from social, economic, and cultural contexts. (Brantingham and Brantingham, 1981).  Moreover, it places central importance on the movement of offenders through time and places in forming patterns of behavior.

A first step in discerning crime patterns is locating them on a map. French criminologist Guerry began to do this in the mid-19th century using pin-maps, which were useful but quickly outdated. A vast leap forward more than a century later was the advent of desktop computer-based geographic information systems mapping, which organizes and automates multiple, seemingly discrete events into discernable patterns. Moreover, GIS allows for statistical comparison of crimes and easily track them across the broad expanse of urban settlements, which pin maps cannot do.

CPTED at work in Seoul.

CPTED at work in Seoul.

While place-based crime prevention theories are useful in broadly understanding physical vulnerabilities based on design and placement of structures, most offer, at best, vague intervention and prevention strategies. For example, the advice that entrances to buildings should be well lighted is a prime CPTED surveillance principle. But, even with foot candle measurements conforming to IES  standards there is little hard empirical evidence to support this as a life-safety measure. Why are .5 foot candles of light at ground level better than .3 in parking lots? The same issue holds true for other basic CPTED principles, even though they seem to be intuitive, even common sense. This is a point made by Taylor’s prescient paper, “Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED): Yes, No, Maybe, Unknowable, and All the Above (2002).” The fact is we have little good empirical data to support much of the CPTED advice given by police and criminologists to the public and the development community. Moreover, it is stretch to directly connect design with criminal behavior (i.e., as cause and effect). Probably the best we can say presently is that poor design, however defined, is a risk factor in supporting crime. We argue that the use of CPTED, like crime analysis, needs to move from the macro-scale to the micro-scale relative to geo-spatial studies and crime analysis advice. And it should do so based on empirical evidence.

The fact that it has not done so yet is one reason, we suggest, why CPTED principles are sparsely embedded directly into municipal building and planning codes, unlike fire-protection regulations. The latter are based on a long history of experimental, empirical research that links fire codes closely to exterior and interior design, the use of fabrics and materials, sprinkler systems, and life safety. City and county commissions readily accept the hard science, based on results of on-the-ground fire suppression studies. Stringent fire codes are now incorporated into virtually all building codes. National testing organizations and code agencies firmly support such codes and they are reliable enough to use in court proceedings. Of course, CPTED is based on human behavior and environmental vicissitudes, whose multiple variables cannot be easily, if at all, replicated in laboratories. Nevertheless, despite new technology and methodologies, CPTED recommendations are still promulgated at general, large-grain levels.

This challenges Fosberg’s perception that “the profession of crime analysis seems to have moved from a more generalized mapping of hot spots to a more finely-grained map.” (2015, p. 8) CPTED does not offer fine-grained maps but relies on generalized, intuitive principles of what works, tested to some extent by Sherman, et al. in their 1997 groundbreaking work. Lacking scientific evidence or at the least a decent return on investment rationale, such advice is opposed or ignored by local builders and developers who see it as adding unnecessary costs to the building process. This might change if CPTED principles were incorporated into the fundamental structure of local building regulations. Because they are not, with few exceptions (e.g., photometric plans and within some landscape codes) CPTED recommendations are merely that, recommendations that contractors, builders, and other municipal agencies can and do ignore with impunity. The best that can be said about them is that failure to follow police CPTED recommendations might be used by plaintiffs in liability suits, after an incident has taken place.

The Future of CPTED and Crime Mapping

My argument, like Noah Fritz’s in a recent article in this newsletter (2015) is that what works must be tied to a strong evidence base and honest, independent assessments that go well beyond wishful thinking and politics. Using the available digital technology, many CPTED principles can be verified, or not, using the powerful micro-analysis computer tools that we now possess. So, when police advise people to lock their car doors, they could tell within a range of certainty, maybe 75 to 85 percent, that failure to do so, especially in certain places, will likely lead to a car burglary.  Presently, we can only say that locking your car doors is a good way to protect against car burglary, not how likely you’ll be to regret not doing so. New crime analysis theory and technology can and should change this.

The argument is not to produce more regulation but to produce more robust advice to the public and to make manufacturers, builders, and developers more attentive. To achieve this, we argue for much stronger empirical rationales for CPTED’s basic principles along with the development of honest, independent evaluative systems.


Brantingham, P.L. and Brantingham, P.J. (1981). Environmental Criminology. Beverly Hills, Sage.

Brantingham, P.L. and Brantingham, P.J. (1993). Paths, nodes, edges: considerations on the complexity of crime and the physical environment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 13, 3-28.

Brantingham, P.L., Rondeau, M.B., Brantingham, P.J. (1997). “The Value of Environmental Criminology for the Design Professions of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Planning.” Second Annual International Crime Prevention through Environmental Design Conference. Orlando, Fl., ICA,

Caplan, J.M. and Kennedy, L.W. (eds), (2011). Risk Terrain Modeling Compendium. Rutgers NJ, Rutgers Center on Public Security.

Chapin, (1974). Human Activity Patterns in the City: Things People Do in Time and in Space, John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Clarke, R.V. ed (1992). Situational Crime Prevention: Successful Case Studies, Albany, NY, Harrow and Heston.

Clarke, R.V. (ed) (1997). Situational Crime Prevention: Successful Case Studies, 2nd Edition,   Albany, NY, Harrow and Heston.

Crowe, T. (2000). Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, 2nd Edition, Boston, MA, Butterworth-Heinemann.

Fosberg, B., “Ripeness and Hot Spots in Time: Possible Futures in Micro Place-based Policing.” (2015) Crime Mapping and Analysis News, Issue 3, Summer 2015. Police Foundation.

Fritz, N.J. (2015). “Policing on Purpose: Revisiting Problem-Oriented Policing.” Crime Mapping and Analysis News, Issue 3, Summer 2015. Police Foundation.

Guerry, A.M., (1833). Essai sur la Statistique Morale de la France, Paris, Crochard.

Jeffrey, C. Ray (1971). Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, Beverly Hills, Sage.

Lynch, K. (1960). The Image of the City, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.

Newman, Oscar (1973) Defensible Space: Crime Prevention through Urban Design, New York, Collier books.

Sherman, L.W., Gottfredson, D.C., Mackenzie, D.C., Eck, J., Reuter, P., and Bushway, S.D. (1997). Preventing Crime, What Works, What Doesn’t, What’s Promising. National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Washington DC, US Department of Justice.  36-37.

Taylor, R.B. “Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED): Yes, No, Maybe, Unknowable, and All the Above (2002),” in R.B. Bechtel and A. Churchman (eds) Handbook of Environmental Psychology,  New York, John Wiley, p 413-426.

Wood, E. (1961). Housing Design: A Social Theory. New York, NY. Citizens Housing and Planning Council.

Wood, E. (1967). Social Aspects of Housing and Urban Development, New York, United Nations, Number 67. IV.12.

Richard Schneider is professor emeritus of urban and regional planning at the School of Landscape Architecture and Planning at the University of Florida’s College of Design, Construction and Planning. He is an adjunct professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. A charter member of the American Planning Association and a twenty-year member of AICP, his research and teaching specialization is planning for crime prevention. In that capacity he has worked with international, national, state and local law enforcement agencies and has published widely in the field. He has taught and lectured at the University of Florida, Arizona State University, University of Manchester (UK) and Sheffield Hallam University (UK).

You must be logged in to post a comment