Situational Prevention

Situational prevention can range from common sense safety precautions to comprehensive community planning. International research on situational prevention has identified effective tactics to reduce crime, as well as some measures that are less effective.

st. henri

An internationally recognized approach called Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED, pronounced "sep-ted") is commonly used by architects, planners, builders and police services to create physical environments which reduce the opportunities for crime. This includes better lighting in public spaces, visible entrances to businesses and private property, deadbolt locks and peepholes on doors, and appropriate alarm systems.1

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, in partnership with the RCMP, has included CPTED principles in a booklet and video that explain how to make proper use of design, lighting, alarms, landscaping, and so on to maximize home security.2

In the United Kingdom, a program targeting repeat residential burglaries was implemented in Kirkholt, one of the highest crime estates in Britain. Under the program, the physical condition of the area was improved by installing locks and new lighting in vulnerable points of entry. As well, small groups of neighbours were encouraged to create "cocoons" where they would look out for each others' property. Compared to the surrounding area, Kirkholt experienced a 58% drop in residential burglaries in one year, and a total reduction of 75% over four years.3

When this program was replicated in 1994 in the high-crime Montréal neighbourhood of St. Henri, the multi-sector "cocoon" neighbourhood-watch model resulted in a 41% reduction in residential burglaries over one year. A group called Tandem Montréal successfully implements the "cocoon" model in some parts of the city to this day.4

Regulations concerning firearms, such as the recently created Canadian gun registry, are also considered to be effective situational approaches to crime prevention (see "Don't cop out on the gun registry," by Edgar A. MacLeod, President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, cited in the Globe and Mail, January 15, 2004). Other Canadian examples of effective initiatives to reduce the risk of victimization include programs to sensitize seniors to the dangers of fraud,5 self-defence training for women, and safety audits of neighbourhoods.6

Unfortunately, other projects which use situational approaches to crime prevention – such as the police-led "Neighbourhood Watch" and "Block Parent" programs that are most familiar to Canadians – have not been successful in reducing crime and victimization. A large-scale American evaluation revealed that these popular police programs fail to reduce burglaries and other target crimes, especially in high-risk neighbourhoods.7

Existing evidence should be taken into consideration when investing time and money in situational crime prevention programs. Knowing "what works" can improve the security of vulnerable individuals and troubled neighbourhoods, and can effectively complement social development efforts to reduce crime and victimization.

See the Tips for Parents & Caregivers section for an example of "target hardening," which was one of the earlier situational approaches to crime prevention.