The urban environment and security

August 2015 Editor's Choice, Security Services & Risk Management

“To reduce the risk of becoming a crime statistic, South Africans are increasingly being confronted with pressure to implement progressively more advanced technical solutions. Many people have come to believe that purchasing a solution will prevent crime. However, technology is only one of the components of successful crime prevention.”

Rob Anderson
Rob Anderson

This is according to Rob Anderson, executive director on the Board of EES Africa, an ISO 9001:2008 certified company providing management, engineering and auditing services throughout Africa. Anderson is a specialist in integrated security and electrical engineering, and has firsthand experience in witnessing prevailing crime trends.

He explains that a successful integrated security solution comprises both technology and, as importantly, people. Used in conjunction with each other these elements can produce a local urban environment, which is crucial to crime prevention.

“This has led to the use of the internationally accepted concept of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), which is based on the need to build and maintain environments that are unfriendly to criminals,” Anderson says.

CPTED relies upon changes to the physical environment that will cause a potential offender to make certain behavioural decisions. These changes are crafted so as to encourage behaviour, and thus they deter rather than conclusively prevent behaviour. Some key factors are listed below.

Natural surveillance

Natural surveillance increases the feeling that people can be seen. It is facilitated by designing and placing physical features, and arranging activities and people in such a way as to maximise visibility and promote positive social interaction among legitimate users of private and public space. Potential offenders feel increased scrutiny and that they have limited escape routes. Examples include:

• Place windows overlooking roads, paths and parking lots.

• Leave window curtains open unless you need privacy.

• Use passing traffic and people as a surveillance asset.

• Create landscape designs that provide surveillance, especially in proximity to points of normal entry and potential criminal points of entry.

• When choosing and placing lighting, avoid poorly placed lights that create blind spots for potential legitimate observers. Ensure potential problem areas, such as stairwells, are well lit.

• Avoid overly bright security lighting that creates blinding glare and/or deep shadows, hindering the view for legitimate observers. Eyesight adapts to bright lighting quickly but has trouble adjusting to low level lighting quickly. Using lower intensity lights often requires more fixtures.

Natural surveillance measures can be complemented by technical solutions. For example, closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras can be installed in areas where natural surveillance is not available.

Natural access control

“Natural access control reduces the opportunity for crime by taking steps to clearly differentiate between public space and private space. Selectively place entrances and exits, fencing, lighting and landscape to limit access or control flow,” Anderson advises.

Examples are:

• Use of a single, clearly identifiable point of entry.

• Incorporate maze entrances in public restrooms. This avoids the isolation that is produced by an anteroom or double door entry system.

• Use low, thorny bushes beneath ground level windows.

• Eliminate design features that provide access to roofs or upper levels.

• Have a locked gate between front and back gardens.

Territorial reinforcement

Territorial reinforcement promotes the feeling of ownership. An urban environment designed to clearly define private space does two things:

“Firstly, territorial enforcement creates a sense of ownership. Owners have a vested interest and are more likely to challenge intruders or report them to the police. Secondly, the sense of owned space creates an environment where strangers or intruders stand out and are more easily identified.

“Using buildings, fences, pavement, signs, lighting and landscape to express ownership and define public, semi-public and private space, achieves natural territorial reinforcement.”


Good maintenance presents the image of ownership of property. Deterioration indicates less control by the intended users of a site and indicates a greater tolerance for disorder.

Multi-use spaces

Multi-use spaces increase the use of a built environment for safe activities. This results in the spaces being occupied for longer periods, promoting natural surveillance which increases detection of criminal and undesirable activities.

Obstacles to CPTED

What then are the obstacles to the adoption of CPTED?

• A lack of knowledge of CPTED by designers, owners, and individual community members. For this reason education is required with case studies of the successes.

• Resistance to change. Many people specifically resist the type of cooperative planning that is required to use CPTED.

• Many existing built areas were not designed with CPTED in mind. Modification would be expensive, politically difficult, or require significant changes in some areas of the existing built environment.

• Altering an existing environment to meet CPTED can be costly. However, when incorporated in the original design phase, cost of designing to CPTED principles can be reduced.

The way forward

CPTED strategies are most successful when they inconvenience the end user the least, and when the CPTED design process relies upon the combined efforts of environmental designers, property owners, community leaders and law enforcement personnel. It should be kept in mind that CPTED is a deterrent strategy and not the final and only solution.

Anderson concludes: “The successful integration of technology and manpower is crucial to strengthening and complementing the environmental components of the security solution, thus producing a highly efficient integrated security solution and achieving optimum crime prevention.”

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