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How EPS got involved in city planning

Forty years ago, a theory about crime prevention arrived in Edmonton,
inviting the police into neighbourhood design

In the 1970s, U.S. researchers began to look at the relationship between urban planning and crime. (Jack Farrell)

By Jack Farrell

IN 1995, THE BRITISH criminologist Ronald V. Clarke wrote: “Most of the changes that might bring about reductions in crime, such as better welfare and education, are usually seen as desirable but as demanding resources that society cannot afford.”

Clarke’s statement raises the question of which crime prevention methods can governments afford.

In Edmonton, one method that has been used for more than 25 years is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED, pronounced sep-ted). Although the method has long been utilized, experts agree that CPTED has two major flaws: the theory is largely unsupported by research, and it has yet to be applied in its entirety.

The convoluted history

CPTED was developed through the work of three key figures: Jane Jacobs, Oscar Newman and C. Ray Jeffery.

Jacobs laid the foundation through 1961’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in which she argued for a new way to plan cities, to make them safer and prevent crime. Among many things, she suggested that city planners needed to create more mixed-use public spaces, densify neighbourhoods, and plan in a way that there would always be eyes on the street.

The book inspired architect Oscar Newman to follow in 1972 with Defensible Space, which introduced the concept commonly referred to now as First Generation CPTED. It caught on in the 1980s and, ever since, law enforcement agencies across North America have been using Newman’s concept as a manual for applying CPTED in their communities.

Newman’s concept has four principles: territorial control, natural surveillance, image and milieu, and access control.

Screenshot from the International Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Association (ICA) website.

Although Newman’s concept became understood as CPTED, it was the criminologist C. Ray Jeffery who coined the term and whose original theory called for social solutions to crime as well as environmental design.

In 1997, Matthew Robinson, a professor of government and justice studies at Appalachian State University, differentiated Jeffery’s concept of CPTED from Newman’s by writing:

“There are then two critical elements of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design: the place where the crime occurs and the person who commits the crime; thus, Jeffery asserts that we can successfully prevent crime by altering the organism and/or the external environment. Because the approach contained in Jeffery’s CPTED model is today based on many fields … a focus on only external crime prevention is inadequate as it ignores another entire dimension of CPTED … the internal environment.”

Jeffery’s concept of CPTED was not fully developed until 1990 and, because Newman included instructions on how to apply his ideas to city planning, his concept became the accepted and widely funded version of CPTED.

“What happened is, as we know in crime prevention and any social programming and preventative programming, if agencies can’t build a checklist from it, then it usually doesn’t get funded or moved forward,” Barry Davidson told The Magpie. He is co-founder of the International Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Association (ICA), which was established in Calgary, in 1996.

Where is the
supporting evidence?

In his 1985 master’s thesis on “the status and prospects for CPTED in British Columbia,” University of British Columbia graduate student Marino Piombini wrote: “in spite of the limited success of CPTED to date, research on the theory and practice of the concept should continue.”

Piombini’s statement shares a common sentiment behind much of the research on CPTED: The results are not positive, but it should be used anyway.

“It’s one of our greatest frustrations,” Davidson said of the lack of successful research to date. “Part of the problem – and I hate to speak ill of my fellow [CPTED] practitioners – is that the vast majority of people that are doing this don’t have an academic background.

“When we started the ICA, [we] were horribly frustrated that CPTED had been hijacked by the police, was actually doing more harm in a lot of places, and was getting a very bad name because frankly it wasn’t that effective.

“It was literally just a policing tool, and that was not good.”

When the concept first
met the police

In Piombini’s thesis, he wrote that “some municipalities have, in the past five years, encouraged the participation of police agencies in community planning.”

The RCMP was the first police force in Canada to start practicing CPTED.

“This has been possible through federal government funding of courses conducted by the [RCMP]. Once the police officers complete the course, they assume a position on advisory planning commissions in their respective municipalities,” Piombini wrote.

The course that was taught to officers in the early 1980s was just nine days long.

How CPTED came
to Edmonton

Although the first time, “defensible space” appeared in Edmonton’s Land Use bylaw was in 1983, CPTED didn’t become widely incorporated into city planning until the 1990s, when Jan Reimer was mayor.

In 1990, Reimer introduced the Mayor’s Task Force on Safer Cities, which was financed through her personal office budget, thus presenting no additional cost to the city. The task force prepared multiple reports and presented more than 100 recommendations to council on how the city could install the concept of Crime Prevention Through Social Development (CPTSD).

A page from one of the reports on safer communities, produced during the time Jan Reimer was mayor.

The task force’s report on “urban design and safety” recommended that “the Planning and Development Department, assisted by the Edmonton Police Service, develop a set of CPTED criteria and performance standards for approval by council, inclusion through amendment in the Land Use Bylaw, [and] use in the review and approval of all proposed development.”

This recommendation was amended into the City of Edmonton Land Use Bylaw in 1995. (Reimer did not respond to multiple interview requests.)

CPTED comes to town
and becomes a buzzword

Regarding why law enforcement agencies in Canada started advocating for CPTED, Davidson said, “community policing became the buzzword for funding, the buzzword for manpower.”

“CPTED falls directly within that community policing mandate as being a tool for getting communities engaged. They recognized early on that this could help them qualify their members to be knowledgeable in some type of community policing.”

Retired EPS Sgt. P.J. Duggan, who served on Reimer’s task force, co-authored a book published by EPS in 1996 explaining how EPS “radically changed the way it served Edmontonians” by shifting away from a “reactive style of policing” towards a community-based style of policing.

According to the book, EPS began planning the change in policing style in 1988 – two years before Reimer formed the task force.

EPS officers have used CPTED in their work in a few different ways since 1995.

The Crime Free Multi-Housing program (CFMH) implemented in 2001 is based on CPTED.

Since the start of the CFMH program in Edmonton, EPS has certified over 300 different housing complexes in the city. (

The Community Research Unit at the University of Regina published a study in 2011 that found the success of CFMH program in all participating communities was difficult to measure, but “there is verbal agreement from communities involved with CFMH program that, when a rental property follows the program guidelines, there are reductions in calls for service and reduced criminal activity.”

The researchers also found that, at the time, Edmonton and the EPS had the highest annual cost to run the CFMH program. The annual cost for EPS’s CFMH program was $250,000, which included “salary for two constables, partial salary of supervisor; office space at headquarters, vehicle, displays, prizes, tools, clothing (with emblems), and training needs (10,000).”

In comparison, the second-highest annual cost among participating communities was in Saskatoon, where the annual cost was $100,000.

The Magpie was unable to verify the current annual cost for the EPS’s CFMH program.

U of R’s researchers found that another way EPS uses CPTED is by providing CPTED “audits” for the City of Edmonton.

Recently retired Const. John Beatson worked in EPS’s Crime Prevention Unit – which ran and audited the CFMH program – from 2016 until his retirement in Dec. 2021. He says that, when he joined the unit, EPS was not doing many audits for the city.

“We taught people that worked for the city,” Beatson told The Magpie. “They would then go out for the city and they could do their own CPTED audits. They didn’t need the police to do it for them.”

EPS provides a three-day “CPTED Basic” course, and a four-day “CPTED Advanced” course, in which anybody can enrol.

“There is no requirement for CPTED certification or accreditation in Alberta,” the city’s development and planning department told The Magpie via email. “As part of ongoing professional development, City Development Officers have CPTED training provided internally through the Edmonton Police Service.”

The department also stated that it requires “any development, including those with a parkade, either above ground or underground, to have a CPTED assessment provided as part of the application submission.

“For public municipal projects the City may choose to do an internal CPTED assessment or commission an external consultant. Development officers have received feedback from applicants that CPTED assessments prepared by consultants can cost upwards of several thousand dollars.”

Is there a future
for CPTED?

Beatson and Davidson both say it’s apparent that the way CPTED has been implemented is not perfect.

“Multi-disciplinary agencies working together to do CPTED audits works even better than just a police officer doing it or a single person doing it,” Beatson said.

“I definitely try to be more holistic, but I can’t deny what I am. I was a police officer for 33 years and I just retired. I’m sure that [policing background], kicks in even when I try not to let it kick in.

“If you can get a city planner, an architect, a lighting expert, a police officer or security professional, maybe even someone from the fire department – ’cause there’s all these different things that are going to be involved in a CPTED – and have them come in and work on it together, it can be really helpful.”

Davidson says he is optimistic for the future of CPTED and its application.

“What’s nice is that we’ve gone full circle, and what we effectively term Third Generation CPTED is really a step back to what C. Ray had envisioned, and that would be that built environment is the smallest part of everything, and it’s everything else.”

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