Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design

Did you ever wonder how you could make your home or business less appealing to criminals? Properties become targets of crime for a variety of reasons.

By practicing the strategies outlined in this pamphlet you can reduce the risk of being victimized.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Concepts

1. Natural Surveillance

A design concept directed primarily at keeping intruders under observation. The primary goal of a surveillance strategy is to facilitate observation; it may also help to create an increased perception of risk to the offender.

Natural Surveillance Test

Evaluate your natural surveillance by answering these questions:

  • Does landscaping or fencing obscure the view to my property from neighbouring properties?

  • Are there any areas around my doors or windows where a person could hide?

  • Are there areas of contrast or shadow around my property where intruders can loiter without being seen?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your property’s natural surveillance needs to be improved. To address these concerns, consider adding motion sensitive lights, reducing or pruning trees and shrubs, or altering fencing so intruders can be seen.

2. Natural Access Control

A design concept directed primarily at decreasing crime opportunity. The primary goal of an access control strategy is to deny access to a crime target and to create a perception of risk to the offender.

Natural Access Control Test

Evaluate your natural access control by answering these questions:

  • Do people routinely trespass on my property and/or fence line?

  • Can people trespass on my property without being seen?

  • Do people access my property in ways other than I intended?

  • Do any existing access routes lack natural surveillance?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your property’s access control needs to be improved. To address these concerns, consider better control of undesired movements onto and within your property. Install landscaping, fencing or barriers to restrict the movement of people when entering or exiting your property.

When selecting fencing or landscaping materials, consider the maintenance requirements and the impact that landscaping would have on your ability to see intruders trespassing on your property. Keep patio furniture and outdoor equipment away from inaccessible windows and doors.

3. Territorial Reinforcement

A design strategy that encourages people to take ownership and/or responsibility for a space.

Territoriality Test

Evaluate your territoriality by answering the following questions:

  • Do strangers regularly trespass on my property?
  • Is my property being used as a shortcut?
  • Does my property have an unlived-in or unkempt appearance?
  • Are there seldom-used sections of my property where people loiter or hang out?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your property’s territoriality needs to be improved. To address these concerns, incorporate design elements that help distinguish public from private property. For businesses and residences, this can be done through well placed low fences, hedges, flower beds, signage, other markers, and regular maintenance.

It is also critically important to maintain an “illusion of occupancy” when you’re not home. This is extremely important in deterring thieves. This can be accomplished by making sure your lawn is maintained, your driveway is shoveled and your newspapers and mail are picked up. Set your lights to go on and off when you’re not at home and have someone check on your property.

Useful Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Strategies

The following strategies can be used alone or in combination to manipulate your property for the purpose of influencing desired behaviour.

  • Provide clear border definition of controlled space.

  • Provide clearly marked transitional zones which indicate movement from public to semi-private to private space

  • Create gathering areas at locations with natural surveillance and access control

  • Re-designate the use of space to provide natural barriers to conflicting activities

  • Improve scheduling of space to allow for effective use(parking for night shift workers closest to the building)

  • Overcome distance and isolation through improved communications

  • Place safe activities in vulnerable areas, e.g. community garden in vacant land

  • Place vulnerable activities in a safe place, e.g. kindergarten play area in school courtyard

  • Increase the perception of natural surveillance, especially around access control points


To report a crime anonymously, call Crime Stoppers at: 1-800-222-8477(TIPS) or online at:

In An Emergency: Call 9-1-1.

To report a crime to the Toronto Police that is not an emergency call 416-808-2222.

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