Designing out Crime is far more than ‘CPTED’

Designing out Crime is far more than ‘CPTED’

I want to talk about CPTED briefly, and explain why its simplistic application of marketing to the wider world is also the reason for its often ‘tokenistic’ application and consequent failure for sustainable delivery. That is my considered professional opinion based on over two decades operating as a designing out crime professional.

In Canada, Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a term that is often thrown around, but this extremely important facet of crime reduction is too often paid lip service and the approach is too narrow.

“This results in an oversimplification in guidance given most notably in public service which means the application of the principles can be ineffectual”.

This problem is not unique to Canada; it is evident in communities around the globe. Because the core principles of CPTED are easy to grasp, many ‘build’ professionals feel empowered, qualified and comfortable to run with it. In my experience when it comes to making community safety determinations that affect the built environment, design professionals, planners, architects, developers and builders should not attempt to be safety and security specialists and the reverse also applies.

So what does a designing out crime specialist bring to the table?

The answer is more breadth and depth of understanding on how offenders interact and behave in certain environments when presented with certain conditions. There are too numerous to mention theoretical approaches that need to be contemplated in any analysis leading to design guidance. Some of these are conflicting and rely on the skills of the consultant to find the right balance.

​What is the Signals Crime Perspective?

I also want to briefly discuss this perspective in amongst this theoretical review, because where we chose to exercise territoriality is very often determined by ‘signals”. The basic premise of this theory is that we base our behaviours in our communities on signals. Positive signals foster feelings of security and conversely, negative signals, insecurity.

​There are numerous ‘hot locations in and around Vancouver and three that have received high levels of publicity are the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver; Newton in Surrey; and Surrey City Centre. When we move through any space we are more influenced by it than we would give it credit. The environment sends off subliminal and loud signals which we respond to. Some we see, and some we hear, some we already have in the memory bank based on previous exposure, through the buddy system or media. The three ‘hot’ locations mentioned here will unlikely to be news to you if you reside in BC, and you will likely admit a predisposition to defensive behaviour in these locations.

We spot graffiti and a file automatically opens in the mind which draws all of our graffiti data into a determination, our brains present us with a judgement about the space we currently occupy, whether we want them too or not.

We’ll cross the street on Hastings in the Downtown Eastside not because we have been there before but because the media paints a strong picture of risk if we do not and we are disposed towards self preservation.

We avoid walking down garbage strewn dark alleyways filled with hidden recesses. These are negative control signals and they exude insecurity lack of management and our innate defense mechanisms prompt us to skirt around.

“The signals crime perspective is not only common sense but is demonstrably significant”.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and the list is endless. Probably the most important skill that comes with the genuine designing out crime specialist is the experiential and practical understanding of just what works, where, when, and why.

What is the most productive partnership arrangement?

Distillation is the answer. An answer arrived at by ‘built environment’ colleagues I have worked with previously based on their experience of our collaborative working. To avoid professional dilution, keep the fields of expertise separate. This also prevents internal politics and cross departmental persuasion.

“The purpose of influencing at the planning stage is to remove criminogenic features from built environment projects and introduce community safety enhancements before the project moves from plan to structure or structures”.

Is it easier to fix before or after you build?

It’s a lot easier to move the lighting column on the plan than to dig it out of the sidewalk. A lot easier to parachute a business premise into an industrial complex if you know who the business neighbours are and the crime context. It’s easier to parachute a house or residential neighbourhood into a location if an understanding of how it will connect to the locality exists. It’s not as simple as ‘this much space equals this much place’.

“Get the design right at the planning stage and every stakeholder benefits. Reduced burden on first responders, reduced ‘neighbourhood’ costs to the municipality and less ‘services’ resource required, reduced unnecessary expenditure of tax payer dollars and for the builder, developer, property manager? Less maintenance required, less turnover, costs and neighbourhood stability to sustain property values”.

I have built a career based on working with clients ‘repairing’ built environments where crime was designed in. Less often than I would have liked I have worked with ‘built environment’ stakeholders, at the planning stage and I have developed and then shared site specific safety and security design concepts with them. A recent pre-build contribution to designing out crime was collaborative working with Dialog Design in Vancouver to produce the Regina Global Transportation Hub Master and Land Use Plans as well as designing site tenant safely and security design standards. The master plan layers multiple considerations and themes to integrate strategies and guidelines. Strategic Plan – Building Design – Safety and Sustainability – Land Use – Street Network and Site. All on a 9.75 Hectare green field site. From plans we contributed to a world class design, maximizing functionality and minimizing imposition while still retaining the necessary community safety and security levels. Perhaps even more appealing to design professionals we were able to do this and preserve the aesthetic.

Effecting repair post build is difficult and bolt on solutions are less robust and often manifest in fortress mentality which is in itself counterproductive because it sends negative signals that reduce levels of law abiding activity. Furthermore, repair is often far costlier than would have been the case if dealt with at the design stage. Post build and repair projects do provide the necessary lessons to help direct pre build considerations.

“After a beating you have a pretty good idea of how you might avoid getting another one”.

​Attention to designing out crime is getting better in some areas where the value is appreciated and resources are in evidence, but broadly it is still being paid too much lip service.

“For decades build projects have ‘designed in’ opportunities for crime and open space designs have included opportunities to compromise public safety. When drawing up plans, architects, planners and developers are working to budgets and these are often constraining”.

An early casualty in design, when budgets are tight, is security and unless there is a statutory obligation even safety can be compromised. What is left behind negatively impacts on all of us unfortunate enough to come into contact with that space or place. The outcome is all too familiar to law enforcement professionals. Crime mapping shows these locations as hot spots; hot streets, hot places, hot premises, hot property.

The police unsurprisingly struggle to respond to all the calls for assistance in crime hotspots. The combination of issues and years of inaction have made the problems unmanageable in many cases. Fixes, when and if they come, are usually short term and political will leans towards short term results within terms of office and not into a protracted sustainable solution that requires years of commitment to get traction.

Design plays a major part in hotspot development but is not the sole offender; people commit crimes not places. That said, certain places attract certain people. Design is not always to blame but it can influence the susceptibility of an area to issues both positively and negatively depending on the attention to detail afforded at the design stage.

So there remains a demand in communities for security guidance and solutions, because in simple terms, increasing and higher levels of victimization in business environments generate additional costs. This impact on customer traffic and choice equals a loss of revenues. In residential environments deteriorating or broken neighbourhoods signal reduced equity, reduced rents, higher turnover and again reduced foot traffic. Public service supply to meet this demand is reducing and negligible.

Inaction is not an option

Who can act and when they would be best advised to act is less difficult to establish. First response will have to come from the private sector and the community, and guided also from the private sector by a designing out crime specialist.

Mike Franklin, Vice President Risk Management & Community Safety
Lions Gate Risk Management Group

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