In the variety of sectors and grades that real estate has to offer, there is at least one shared value that is often overlooked from a preventative aspect: Commercial Real Estate Security & Safety. One simple way in which investors can assess and improve safety and security of a property at any stage is through the lens of CPTED.
What is CPTED?
CPTED, or Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, merges design and criminology to argue that a space can use design to minimise its predisposition to crime. This was a concept popularised in the 1970s and 1980s and since then, there have been a number of studies forming its current application. Today, it is endorsed by town planners and governing bodies around the world, including the New South Wales and the Queensland Police.
Whilst CPTED can largely be applied to the first stage of designing a building, there are concepts that can be carried through during the ownership of existing buildings to maximise security.
Thankfully, the research has led to four key principles which can be applied to any built space. These principles are useful for all buildings regardless of suburb or use. By applying some of these principles, your tenants will thank you for a safe space for their visitors and your wallet will thank you for not having to cover costs of preventable criminal damage.
Let’s see what strategies you could take on to turn criminals off a commercial building.
Whilst CCTV or dummy security cameras can be an obvious deterrent for those not wanting to be seen, the principle here is to engage natural surveillance from staff and the general public. This actual or sense of surveillance is to deter criminals from the site, which studies have found to be effective.
Simple ways to improve surveillance to an existing building include maximising exposure from the street and ensuring that the entrances and exits are clear to the public and well lit. Avoid hidden walkways or side entrances or lock these areas off if possible. If there are rear areas which aren’t easily locked, try to create lines of sight from passing traffic or neighbouring properties. This could be as simple as replacing solid doors with glass or screens, or making sure overgrown hedges which block visibility are kept trim.
Buildings with retail tenants and glass shop fronts can create a sense of community where tenants can keep an eye out for themselves and others. In a couple of commercial buildings in the northside, we were able to use our engagement with the tenants to feel comfortable reporting things out of the ordinary whether it was for their shop or not.
2. Access Control
Where surveillance encourages exposure from eyes off the street, this principle is to channel people into pathways of the building. Doing so not only gathers members of the public into areas to make it difficult to conduct a crime, it also makes suspicious behaviour obvious to the general public if one is perceived as going into an ‘out of bounds’ area.
Access control can involve ensuring thoroughfares are clearly identifiable with fencing and signage. In car parks, make sure the path to the main customer entrance is clear and limited. Back entrances or unnecessary pathways should also be clearly restricted to those with authority by using gates, locks or guards.
One example of this occurring in a city fringe building was where we successfully lobbied the strata committee to have a gate installed to a side entrance following misuse after hours. This was immediately effective, as loitering significantly decreased following this installation.
3. Territorial Reinforcement
Territorial reinforcement assumes that that design can articulate who is allowed to use specific zones of a space, by marking out ‘territories’. It plays into the idea that individuals can have a sense of ownership, and therefore a responsibility over certain spaces. Additionally, having clear territories makes it difficult for one to defend themselves by claiming that they didn’t know the area was out of bounds.
Most commercial properties are going to have public (front footpaths), semi-public (communal areas, arcades and shops), and restricted (staff or tradesman) areas. The boundaries between these might be enhanced through markings on the floor, walls, location of promotional signage and ‘keep out’ signs where necessary.
Keep in mind that there is a balance to be struck here, as the Queensland Government points out that overly ambiguous territories can lead to ‘accidental trespassing’ from the general public, and high fences or physical boundaries can compromise surveillance. On the other hand, when done right, it can create clear welcoming spaces for tenants and visitors.
One recurring issue across a property is the storage of personal or tenant items in common areas, which can blur the distinction between territories if it becomes ongoing. Through keeping tabs on the which areas are and are not part of a tenant’s premises, Pure has been able to regulate the used through communication. For example, bulletins and one-on one conversations with tenants has been successful in preventing common areas being used in a way which can seem exclusive to a tenant where it is not.
4. Maintenance & Management
This final principle is heavily based on the broken window theory, which states that ‘broken windows’ are a sign that vandals have been to the property and gotten away with it. Criminals interviewed have also applied the logic that if people are careless or not observant enough to maintain their property, they are also more likely to forget to lock doors, or not notice when something goes missing.
Keep this in mind if your building is ever graffitied; it is best to have it removed as soon as possible, so other vandals don’t make a habit of it or add to any artwork. Otherwise, as always, it is good to ensure that is inspected regularly and users of the property feel that they can report maintenance so it can be acted on in the first place.
This was applied to newly built retail complex in Brisbane’s inner south. Graffiti was spotted on the building from the night prior, however we arranged removal the following morning. Since then, there have been no signs of tagging from the same, or other offenders, as an intolerance for graffiti was established from the get-go.
Next time you are walking through a property, take it from the perspective of a criminal – are there places you can hide and work, are there areas you might be seen as suspicious and is there anything appealing at the site to steal?
I’m sure this isn’t a thought exercise that you’re already used to, however, it could flag some problem areas, which could be easily fixed with a preventative strategy, rather than when it’s too late.
Wilcox, P; Quisenberry, N; Cabrera, DT; Jones, S (2004), “Busy places & broken windows?: Toward Defining the Role of Physical Structure and Process in Community Crime Models”, Sociological Quarterly, 45 (2): 185–207, doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.2004.tb00009.x.
Armitage, R. (n.d.). Burglars’ take on crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED): Reconsidering the relevance from an offender perspective. Secur J, 31(1), 285-304.
The State of Queensland, (2007) Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design – guidelines for Queensland. Retrieved from https://www.police.qld.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-08/CPTEDPartA.pdf
The Government of New South Wales, (2019) Safer by Design. Retrieved from https://www.police.nsw.gov.au/safety_and_prevention/policing_in_the_community/safer_by_design