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Safe Design

by Kim Vann (retired CPTED Planner), Henrico County Division of Police.

How safe do you perceive your home, neighborhood, community or jurisdiction to be? Do you feel comfortable as you undertake your day-to-day activities of going to and from work, shopping, school, etc? Henrico County has been thinking about these issues as they relate to development and redevelopment and their direct influence on the quality of life.

In 1994, the Henrico County Division of Police received funding from the Department of Criminal Justice Services to employ a planner through a Crime Control Planning grant. This planner implements Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) concepts and strategies.

What is CPTED?

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design is based on a theory that the proper design and effective use of the built environment can lead to a reduction in the incidence and fear of crime and an improvement in the quality of life. In other words, if a site is laid out well, the likelihood of it being targeted for a crime may be reduced.

Crime prevention is defined as the anticipation, recognition and appraisal of a crime risk and the initiation of some action to remove or reduce it. CPTED takes crime prevention one step further by studying the site design and working with the developmental community and public development agencies in an attempt to create safer designs in new and existing developments.

Does good design have to be antithetical to safe design?

The basics of CPTED and the program started in Henrico County say an emphatic NO. What constitutes a site being laid out well and/or safe? Issues such as the building orientation, entrances/exits, parking lot location, landscaping, lighting, fences, sidewalks, signage, etc., are just a few examples of what is considered when a site plan is reviewed by the CPTED Planner.

CPTED applies three key concepts, all of which are interrelated.

Natural surveillance: Natural surveillance is the placement of physical features, activities and people in such a way as to maximize visibility.
Natural access control: Natural access control is the physical guidance of people coming and going from a space by the judicial placement of entrances, exits, fencing, landscaping and lighting.
Territorial reinforcement: Territorial reinforcement is the use of physical attributes that express ownership, such as fencing, signage, landscaping and pavement treatments.

The thought processes behind the concepts and strategies of CPTED are considering how people behave in an environment, how that environment lends itself to a productive and safe use by those using the space, and how crime prevention may be applied.

CPTED Origins

CPTED and the concepts of safe design have had several significant influences over the years. Jane Jacobs discussed the interaction of the physical environment with its inhabitants and how important this is in the life and vitality of a street or neighborhood in The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Architect Oscar Newman coined the expression “defensible space” in 1969 when he began his study on public housing and its layout, in association with residents’ perception of safety and their victimization. His focus was on a person’s feeling of ownership or lack thereof (territorial reinforcement), and his relationship with criminal activity. Some of his work since then has related to the design, layout and use of residential streets as a deterrent to crime.

C. Ray Jeffery, a criminologist from Florida State University, coined the term “CPTED” and studied the relationship between the physical environment and incidence of crime. In 1971, he authored Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Studies were undertaken where inmates were interviewed as to why they chose a certain location for the crime that was committed, and what the influencing factors, if any, were to that environment.

How Does Henrico County’s Program Work?

The Henrico County Division of Police has recognized the efficacy of the CPTED approach to crime prevention as an inclusive and proactive strategy for many years.

Currently there are no county codes and limited state codes which apply crime prevention and especially CPTED to the built environment. The Division identified a need for someone familiar with the county planning process, as well as the need to provide training in crime prevention and CPTED for the Planner. The Planner has access to information regarding criminal trends, and can gather and analyze data. Locating the planner within the Police Department offers insight into the field of criminal justice and law enforcement that cannot be gained otherwise.

The CPTED Planner was employed by the Division of Police in December, 1994. This is a County Planner II level position located within the County Services Section. The program was the first in the county to employ a civilian within a law enforcement agency implementing a CPTED program. Police agencies across the country are included in the routing and review of development plans; however the personnel are typically sworn officers who have little or no knowledge of the planning process. The CPTED Planner reviews application requests from a crime prevention point of view, with the knowledge and understanding of the planning process and zoning ordinances.

The Division is included in the review of various requests for applications such as rezonings, provisional use permits, plans of development (site plans), landscape and lighting plans, conditional use permits and variances.

Where Have We Been?

The CPTED Planner’s role has evolved since the initiation of the program. At first, training was the main emphasis of the program for the planner, the Community Services Section and County development agencies. The planner has received over 300 hours of training in such topics as CPTED, crime prevention, and lighting. Over the last year and a half, the roles have shifted to the Planner providing training and having more interaction with County development agencies and the development community.

The Division of Police has typically been part of most studies conducted by various County agencies. The difference now is that the CPTED Planner is usually the Division representative. Often, other County agencies are as unaware as the public of the programs and services offered within the Division of Police. This understanding has changed to a certain extent, so that now input is sometimes sought from the Planner prior to any formal process beginning. Project examples have included sector studies and plans to locate and construct additional County facilities, i.e. schools, libraries, parks.

Interaction with the development community has been limited to mainly meetings on the review of development proposals. These are usually site plan reviews or preliminary reviews. To be effective, the interaction must begin earlier in the process.

Interest in the field of crime prevention has also created more opportunities for the CPTED Planner to introduce Henrico’s program and present the concepts and strategies of CPTED to other interested localities.

Where Are We Going?

The CPTED program at Henrico is now entering into the next phase to put more emphasis on making presentations to the development community, i.e. architects, engineers, attorneys, landscape architects, and planners. Other opportunities may include special strategy study areas from the Land Use Plan: Community Maintenance, focusing on the older areas of the county; Community Policing; and most importantly, striving to have the development community include CPTED and crime prevention in their designs and eventually having codes relating to CPTED and crime prevention written into the zoning ordinance.

The Commonwealth of Virginia is very active in the field of CPTED and crime prevention. Numerous jurisdictions and state agencies have crime prevention sections, with a few who place an emphasis on CPTED. For more information, contact Kim Vann at (804) 501-5370.

Published in “VAPA Newsbrief, Vol. 18, No.2, May-June 1997”. This is the newsletter of the Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association.

Contact Us


7721 E. Parham Rd.
Henrico, VA 23294

Police Non-Emergency
(804) 501-5000
General Information
(804) 501-4800

[email protected]

Mailing Address
P. O. Box 90775
Henrico, VA 23273-0775

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