Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Responding to Crime and Other Problems Using CPTED

The problem-solving process used in crime prevention through environmental design is a series of steps designed to answer four questions:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Why here?
  3. What can be done to solve the problem?
  4. How well are we doing?

Each question represents a phase in the SARA process: scanning, analysis, response, and assessment. SARA serves as a framework for action; and while SARA is a good place to start, the process may need to be modified and adapted to the specific location and circumstances. The actual process depends on a variety of factors. For example, in the case of a very specific crime problem in a single location, the process need not include time to define or refine the problem. Analysis focuses on a single type of crime and, because crime data are already available for the problem site, the analysis can begin immediately.

†For more information, see the description of the SARA process.

Additional time is required as issues become more complex, and impact larger geographic areas and greater numbers of stakeholders. In such instances it takes time to organize a problem-solving team and to collect data. It is also more difficult to find a solution that both addresses the problem and satisfies all stakeholders.

One of the key constraints may be the cost of implementation. Although many CPTED strategies are relatively cost-free and easy to accomplish in a short time frame (for example, changes to policies), other projects may require significant investments of capital and phased implementation over several years.

A general description of the four SARA phases and the steps that might be included as part of a CPTED problem-solving process are outlined in Table 1. Each phase addresses one or more aspects of the environment that are critical for employing CPTED strategies to solve the problem. Additional detail on the process is included in later sections of this guide.

The Sara Process Table 1: Problem Solving with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design
SCANNING 1. Identify, define and investigate an existing or emerging problem. 2. Identify the stakeholders who should be engaged in problem solving. 3. Decide on the combination of meetings and activities that will be necessary for problem solving and create a schedule for working through the process.
ANALYSIS 4. Meet with stakeholders to clarify the problem and to define the goals and objectives for the process. 5. Collect and analyze data and information about the problem. 6. Evaluate any connections or relationships between the problem(s), and environmental conditions.
RESPONSE 7. Establish the goals to be achieved through the implementation of crime prevention through environmental design or other strategies. 8. Identify alternative strategies for achieving the implementation goals. 9. Evaluate the social, political, legal, financial, or technological feasibility of implementing each strategy. 10. Select the most promising strategies, and create and adopt a plan for improvement that identifies specific strategies, defines financial and other resource requirements, assigns responsibility for implementation and oversight, outlines a schedule for plan implementation, and establishes indicators of success. 11.Put the most promising and feasible measure(s) into place. A combination of immediate responses, short-term improvements, and long-term investment may be required.
ASSESSMENT 12. Monitor progress relative to the indicators of success specified in step #10. 13. Decide if the process needs to be repeated due to lack of progress or the emergence of new problems.

†In A Manual for Crime Prevention Through Planning and Design, Kruger, Landman and Liebermann (2001) suggest a plan based on (1) urgency or need; (2) the likelihood for success; (3) the potential for positive impacts in other areas; (4) cost; and (5) resource availability.

Defining and Understanding the Problem

One unique aspect of using CPTED for problem solving is the array of data and information that must be gathered and analyzed. While crime, fear and victimization are critical considerations, an environmental evaluation needs to include information that is neither law enforcement-based nor related to crime, for example, land use and zoning, housing code or health code violations, or traffic volumes and pedestrian activity. Quality of life issues such as trash and litter, weeds, vacant lots, and declining property values are also considered, as these problems often have a more debilitating impact on a community on a day-to-day basis. They can also be symptoms of, or precursors to, crime.

The purpose of the environmental evaluation is two-fold:

  1. It is required in order to precisely define the problem.
  2. Data analysis results in a better understanding of the building, site or neighborhood context - the environmental conditions in which the problem is situated.

The intricacy of the analysis ultimately depends on three conditions, which are described in greater detail below:

  • First, data and information requirements will be determined by the circumstances surrounding, and the setting of, an existing or emerging crime problem.

Table 2 considers the various types of information that might become part of an environmental evaluation. Much of the data and information on the list is available from existing sources and agency records; however, significant and necessary pieces of information can sometimes only be obtained through interviews, surveys and observations. Safety audits and security surveys need to be specifically tailored to the facility, the site, or the neighborhood, and in most cases, must be handled by someone who is knowledgeable about locks, lighting, or other aspects of security.

The list of data elements in Table 2 is a general one, and not all of the items will be necessary for every problem-solving activity. The overall goal is to inventory existing conditions and document emerging trends related to a specific problem in a specific location - to answer the question, why here? Four types of scenarios are possible, and each suggests a different kind of data collection strategy:

  1. A specific crime or other problem is occurring at a single location (e.g., the school vandalism, graffiti, and ATM robbery cases), or a crime problem at a specific type of facility (e.g., robbery at several convenience stores).
  2. A specific crime or other problem is limited to a defined geographic area.
  3. A general crime problem or an array of problems is experienced by residents and businesses in a particular geographic area.
  4. The potential for future problems emerges as an outcome of proposed development or facility redesign.
  • Second, the amount of data that can be collected and analyzed is a function of the amount of time allotted for the analysis.

Data collection and analysis can be a time consuming process, and adequate time is not always available. In some instances, public or other, pressures for an immediate response to the problem will strip away any opportunity for analysis. In such cases, evaluation becomes even more critical, to understand the impact of the intervention and to give greater definition to the original problem or any other issues that emerge as a result of the decision to intervene.

  • Third, support resources like staff and funding must be available for the analysis.

Table 2 is also a reminder that crime prevention through environmental design is best undertaken by a team of departments and individuals in collaboration with community representatives. Experience has shown that CPTED strategies are most effective when those who are impacted by the problem are engaged in problem solving and take ownership for the solution. The entire problem-solving process is enhanced when stakeholders are included early on, for example, by organizing a CPTED task force or by using community volunteers to help with data collection.