Crime prevention through environmental design. While not a cure-all, these principles are simple guidelines for decreasing the likelihood a criminal will find your home inviting.
Last month Portland was pounded by some fantastic storms! We went through power outages, tree branches down everywhere, lots of rain and wind, and a little flooding as the icing on the cake.
My girls and I had unknowingly planned a weekend girl getaway the day of the storm. We were lucky our chosen restaurant had power for dinner (our waitress had been without power since 8am). Our hotel down the street, not so much.
We enjoyed our stay just the same and found a powered dollar store so we could purchase flashlights to light our night. The next morning there was still no power, but we were in good spirits. That is until I need to fill up my car on the way home. My lovely old suburban, “the Beast,” has a broken gas gauge, so I go off mileage to determine when to fill up (sometimes you just have to make do).
We got quite the surprise when my suburban proved to need more gas than I’ve ever had to put in as long as I’ve owned it. It was almost empty! The realization and violation hit us hard; a gas thief was taking advantage of my truck. That was an expensive lesson to learn! 30 gallons of gas had been siphoned out of my “beast.”
I wasn’t sure where it had occurred until it the next morning at home when I realized that my gas cap wasn’t locked on, even after buying a locking gas cap, they managed to get through. THE NERVE!
We decided it was time to upgrade our home exterior with some extra security and theft deterrents. Since the state of the world has been heading this direction as a whole, I hope this saves you from current or future crimes as well.
Crime Prevention through Environmental Design
A few years ago I took a fantastic class on CPTED- Crime Prevention through Environmental Design taught by a local county sheriff. Now that I’ve discovered the problem, this was my first place to turn for what to do for own thieves.
Although most of the things we learned is a natural part of how we’ve landscaped in our new home, there were still a few pieces we’d procrastinated in finishing. A lot of these are easy DIY items, but some may require a professional or at least some upper-level skills, that I don’t have. These principles apply to businesses as well as homes, so be vigilant at both.
The four principles of CPTED are:
- Natural Surveillance – criminals can be easily spotted or observed on the property
- Access Control- visible boundaries and barriers to entrance for home and property access
- Territorial Reinforcement- it appears to be owned, lived it, and cared for
- Target Hardening- reducing opportunities for crime and tightening security
Think like a criminal for a second, which home will you pick?
- The clean open yard, with visible windows and doors facing the street and lots of lighting.
- The house with shrubs half way up the windows and no outdoor lights. The door has a tree blocking the view from the street.
The correct answer is B, of course! This house has lots of places to hide, plenty of options for sneaking around the entrance without anyone noticing. Is your home A or B? Stand across the street from your home, and look closely.
- Can you see all your windows in their entirety
- Can you see your doors from any angle
- Are there things blocking the view of gates, sheds, and garages?
The goal here is to make getting close to your home and being hidden from view very difficult.
Natural Surveillance Do’s
- Install motion sensor outdoor lights (Amazon)(this was what stopped my thief!) wherever access may be probable.
- Outdoor path lighting (although my neighborhood has a history of those being stolen), or consider painting paving stones with glow in the dark paint (Amazon)
- Prune trees with 4-6 clearance underneath
- Use plants with thorns under windows
- Prune shrubs to be within 18-24″ under windows and around yards
Natural Surveillance Don’ts
- Block doors or window visibility with shrubs or trees
- Have large hedges as a barrier around the front of your home or tall fences that block the full
- Leave garage doors or windows open at night
- Allow junk, clutter, or cars to block visibility to home or entrances
You are the criminal again, which house would you pick?
- One with a broken fence, no gates, open garage door, no dead bolt
- A house with a small chain link fence around front yard, locked gate, locked and closed doors, obvious dead bolt, solid core exterior doors
The correct answer is A, of course! This house has lots of easy access points and escape routes. The inattention to the owner’s surroundings means neighbors probably aren’t watching their house too closely either as it may be an eyesore. It’s a perfect target!
Is your house A or B? The goal is to limit accessibility and escape options and make gaining entrance more work than it’s worth.
Access Control Do’s
- Plant “hostile” plants (roses, holly, Oregon grapes, and other thorny plants), in flower beds that block exits and invite evidence
- Add retaining walls and landscaping that would be obstacles, but not hiding places.
- Use see-through fences, tall or small, as long as it still allows good visibility to the yard and home.
- Solid core doors, dead bolts (Amazon), and interior latches are the best. Be sure interior latches are easily undone by all family members for fire safety, except small children bent on escape.
- Make sure there are locks and latches on all gates.
Access Control Don’ts
- Use heavy window grates. They block visibility into the home and can be a safety hazard, but there may be areas where they are appropriate. If so regularly check to ensure they can be used quickly and efficiently opened in case of fire.
- Leave fences and gates broken, fix quickly
- Keep doors, windows and gates opened or unlocked, even when home.
Put your criminal hat on, which house would you choose?
- A yard that is covered in weeds and a home that is in need of upkeep and repairs. The garage is cluttered and unkempt, the front porch even more so
- The yard is organized, well maintained, and the home is in good order. Clutter is at a minimum, and the paths and borders are clearly defined
The answer is A, of course! This principle is based on psychology- if it LOOKS cared for, it IS cared for, and someone is likely to defend it. Is your house A or B? The goal is to create a visual message that this is a private property not a public place and that the owner will defend the property.
Territorial Reinforcement Do’s
- The fences and planting borders make a visual property line.
- There are ‘no trespassing’ signs, (Amazon)but don’t be ostentatious
- Everything is in good repair
Territorial Reinforcement Don’ts
- Leave clutter and junk strung around the yard and house
- Neglect yard work for extended periods of time
Be the master criminal again, which house would you choose?
- A) There is only one deadbolt on the door and no locks on the windows. There is only one small light above the front door, and there is a hidden key in a fake stone by the door
- B) All windows lock in place, and there is a dowel in sliding glass door. The home has a keypad and key entrance lock, plus deadbolt, motion sensor lighting on all sides of the home.
The correct answer is A, of course! Although measures were made to control access they were mediocre at best. Which house is yours, A or B? Beefing up security is the best way to reduce criminal opportunities. A well-lit home also helps emergency responders find you as well.
Target Hardening Do’s
- Add extra security features like locks and garage door openers, finger scanners, and key codes
- Dead bolts should throw 1 -1/2″ or longer and be reinforced on both sides
- More than one deadbolt won’t hurt
- Wooden dowel in sliding glass doors should be 1/2″ thick or more and have a 1/2″ gap or less
- Older windows are easier to open, consider replacing them
- Add Locks and latches on Criminals usually avoid breaking glass (it’s noisy)
- Add interior latches on windows and doors that limit space if they are opened
- Use flood lights with motion sensors and daylight solar sensors
- Make sure your lights are on timers, both exterior and interior
- Consider “up” lighting so shadows are at the top rather than the bottom where they can hide someone
- Create an even flow of light outside to prevent shadows to hide in.
Target Hardening Don’ts
- Forget to add protection to your back doors, and the door into your garage.
- Forget your garage doors and all lower level windows, even in the backyard.
- Use hide-a-key devices, instead leave a key with a trusted neighbor
Please note I’m not claiming that you will never fall victim to a crime if you do a few or even all of these tips. These principles are simply guidelines for decreasing the likelihood a criminal will find your home inviting.
These are also great guidelines for securing your home after a disaster to help deter looting, vandalism, and other such crimes. But that’s more for another day.
How did we deter our thief? After two instances of siphoned gas tanks, the motion sensors are what finally did the job. While they are still at large in the community, I guess they felt too exposed under our 100 watts of scrutiny and have moved on to other, darker neighborhoods.
What environmental design techniques will you implement to help secure your home?
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