Does It Look Safe to You?

When an elevator was proposed for a University of Kentucky parking structure being readied for construction, University Police Officer Alan Saylor noticed something.

Saylor, a crime prevention specialist in the University’s Community Affairs Office in Lexington, had been exposed to the ideas of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) during his training years before. Remembering at least one CPTED precept, natural surveillance, Saylor pointed out that the elevator was being proposed for a side of the building facing tennis courts and a football stadium that were largely unoccupied at night. 

Instead, the parking structure’s elevator would be more safely placed on a side of the structure facing a student housing complex, a bustling and conspicuous spot, heavily trafficked, where many students and others would see and use the elevator, Saylor explained. Potential offenders would also see and understand that, making the elevator far less attractive as a site for crime — thus, that CPTED precept of natural surveillance.

The instance speaks to aspects of campus planning, both large and small, that catch the attention of vigilant CPTED practitioners. These practitioners, including a number who are members of the International CPTED Association (ICA,, have various approaches to, and nuances on, the established tenets of their field. It’s a field, pronounced “sept-ted,” that ICA defines as “a multi-disciplinary approach to deterring criminal behavior through environmental design. CPTED strategies reply upon the ability to influence offender decisions that precede criminal acts by affecting the built, social, and administrative environment.”

CPTED on Campus
Practitioners point out various ways that CPTED ideas are being used on college and university campuses, as well as business locations and municipalities, in the effort to create safer environments. Consultants who provided comment for this article reported having worked on CPTED programs including the aforementioned University of Kentucky, as well as Georgetown University, Morgan State University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, West Chester University, Barry University, and colleges and universities in Tennessee.

Among the actions: making superfluous building entrances exclusively into exits; using video analytics and motion detectors to make activity on security camera monitors more conspicuous; designing higher ceilings and applying reflective wall paint in order to make spaces brighter; and placing low plantings alongside walkways to guide foot traffic.

One consultant, Josh Brown, is an ICA board member, security manager, and former police officer who has worked with facilities and security personnel at various universities. He says CPTED involves the aforementioned natural surveillance, as well as territoriality; in other words, assigning campus spaces that students and others “can claim” and care for; and access pathways, or providing physical guidance for foot or vehicular traffic.

Defining Space With Access Pathways
Considering one of the factors, access pathways, for a moment, there are many ways to define space and direct traffic through it. Saylor, for example, pointed out that low earthen berms and plantings can be very effective ways to control traffic and make for, among other things, safe crosswalks.

Then there’s fencing. Fences make good neighbors, but there is more to it than that. Randall Atlas, a security consultant who has worked on CPTED programs with universities and other entities, argues that “the goal of…fencing is to funnel cars and people to entry points that can be observed, supervised, and controlled if desired. The type of fencing material is irrelevant. The most important feature is to have the public versus private boundaries defined, and have ground rules posted.” It’s another facet of a field.

“CPTED is indeed a growing trend,” says Shad U. Ahmed, coordinator of EMS and Homeland Security at the University of Rhode Island and director of the National Institute for Public Safety Research and Training. Even so, the CPTED movement on campuses can face a headwind. As Ahmed explains, “It hasn’t caught on (on many campuses) as rapidly as it has in other types of businesses because, like some municipalities, there are a multitude of departments and agencies involved in this type of planning.” Nevertheless, Ahmed expects to see more and more campuses getting into CPTED. When they do so, he added, physical plant/facilities divisions, campus master planning, and public safety are often involved in the process and participate in CPTED committees that assess designs for buildings to be constructed or renovated.

Administration’s Role in CEPTD
Given the challenges, how does and should the process work administratively? Experts offered some insights and recommendations.

Atlas recommends several steps in sequence: first, campus officials should conduct a security assessment “to determine the level of threats, risks, and vulnerabilities. Once that is completed, a security master plan should be conducted and implemented.” The security master plan needs to look into and address a number of factors, including CPTED itself, physical security, critical infrastructure protection, and things other than crime prevention, such as natural disasters, he explains.

Once all of those are on the table, “operational and campus police security will then play their appropriate roles,” says Atlas. “The biggest tip is to invest in the security study and the master plan,” he observes, adding that if those are conceived and carried out thoroughly, then “everything falls into place and can be timelined and budgeted accordingly.”

Carl Manka of the Tennessee Board of Regents also has some tips, starting with one in particular: “Get the right consultants.” Easier said than done. Manka, as senior director, facilities development, research and planning, for the board, has worked on a number of CPTED initiatives on college and university campuses around his state with officials and consultants, including Atlas. So how to find the right consultant? Manka says to focus on locating “someone with a big bag of tools… someone not looking to sell a product, but to provide a service.”

Brown, speaking not about Tennessee but generally, puts it this way: “Bring in the people who can tell you what you need, then tell them to go away.” In other words, talk to a CPTED expert with an upfront understanding that they will not be subsequently bidding on the RFP, as opposed to bringing in a vendor who could subsequently seek to meet a need that they’ve identified, such as more fencing, lighting, or security cameras, according to Brown.

Take Your Own Look Around
That issue aside, what else did Manka and his colleagues encounter as they surveyed campuses for CPTED? In one instance, a landscaping proposal was looked at through the CPTED prism. The finding: that there was no particular reason to use a landscaping design that would have made an unexpected area on a campus particularly attractive, Manka explains. Choosing outdoor focal points, or for that matter, indoor ones, needs to be strategic: select and design them wherever you would like students and everyone else on a campus to be, he adds.

The concept needs to be kept in mind — and in perspective. Brown says that CPTED should be thought of and implemented as part of the overall equation — “one tool in the tool box”— to make campuses as safe and free of crime as possible.

Back at the University of Kentucky, Saylor is encouraged by the growing acceptance of the concept among architects and on campus over the years, and has set a future goal to have a CPTED-informed security design standard ready to share as each new development project emerges. He recalls how the concept struck him as eminently sensible when he first learned about it. He adds, “Once you understand what CPTED is, it’s common sense stuff” — and stuff, both small and large, that can make a significant difference on campuses.

Scott Berman is a Denmark-based freelance writer with experience in educational topics.

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