Where Criminals Fear to Tread

By Glen Kitteringham, CPP

A large accounting firm was having a problem with laptop thefts at one of its regional facilities. Thirteen of these computers had been stolen during a five-month period. An examination of the cases as part of a larger study on laptop thefts in the building where this company was a tenant revealed several contributing factors. Visitors were allowed to enter the tenant floors unchallenged and unescorted. Tenant entryways were locked but were easy to break into, and they weren’t surveilled. A visitor could, therefore, easily get into the tenant’s space and walk away with a laptop unchallenged. In response to the study, this tenant implemented several security recommendations, including installing surveillance cameras, hardening door frames, and instituting procedural security steps, such as challenging and escorting all visitors. Nine days after the new measures were put in place, an attempt to break into the tenant’s space failed. The thieves have not returned, and the company has had no incidents in 30 months.

When contemplating crime or unwanted activity, offenders weigh the positive and negative aspects of committing an offense to see whether they will likely get away with it. Situational and environmental crime-control measures, such as those implemented in the laptop theft case above, can help to change the would-be criminal’s mind regarding whether committing the offense is worth the risk. While crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) is the most well known of the environmental crime control theories, several others are proving useful in the field as well. The following overview looks at the prevailing approaches and how they can be applied by companies to secure their facilities.


CPTED has three underlying principles that have been refined by criminologists during the last 40 years. They are geared toward protecting physical, electronic, or human assets. The first principle is the use of natural surveillance to allow legitimate building and site users to see further and wider while also reducing the ability of illegitimate users to remain undetected. The second principle is the use of natural access control such as landscaping. The third is territorial reinforcement that keeps illegitimate and unwanted activity away from the site and encourages legitimate and sanctioned activities.

Defensible space theory is aligned with CPTED. Its principles are: spheres of influence that allow occupants to exert territorial influence, improving the natural capability of residents to survey interior and exterior spaces; and the reduction of vulnerabilities through the use of building materials.



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