Reduce crime in Neighborhood Watch

Space and (in) security

Space and (in) security are interdependent. Scientists from the Chicago School researched this connection as early as the late 1920s and demonstrated in numerous studies that different rooms are exposed to different levels of crime. The theory of "social disorganization“Assumes that rooms generate crime and that this is largely independent of their occupants (in other words: despite high population fluctuations, the crime rate remains constant). In addition to this objective crime rate in certain rooms, the connection between the room and fear of crime must be taken into account. So-called. Anxiety dreams are avoided by the residents and as a result the level of social control decreases. This makes the commission of criminal offenses objectively easier and the result can be an increase in crime.

Based on the premise that the area creates crime, programs of urban crime prevention pursue the goal of

  • [To] reduce crime
  • To increase the sense of security of residents and users
  • Avoidance structures
  • [To] intensify influence on the structural, spatial, infrastructural and social design elements of residential areas

Police crime prevention of the federal states and the federal government (2019) Annual report 2018

Defensible space

A program for urban crime prevention was first headed in the 1970s by Oscar Newman Defensible space - so the defensive space - formulated. The architect and urban planner Newman (1935-2004) published the concept in the book in 1972 Defensible space. Crime Prevention Through Urban Design.

According to Newman, five principles increase the "defensibility" of the room:

  1. Territoriality (residents make the space their own "My home is my castle")
  2. Natural surveillance (design of the room so that the residents can control the environment)
  3. Image (impact of the design of the environment on the residents' sense of security)
  4. Milieu (influence of other environmental factors - such as shopping streets, proximity to the police station, etc. on the residents' sense of security)
  5. (safe) neighborhood meeting places


All Defensible Space programs have a common purpose:
They restructure the physical layout of communities to allow residents to control the areas around their homes. This includes the streets and grounds outside their buildings and the lobbies and corridors within them. The programs help people preserve those areas in which they can realize their commonly held values ​​and lifestyles.

Defensible Space relies on self-help rather than on government intervention, and so it is not vulnerable to government’s withdrawal of support. It depends on resident involvement to reduce crime and remove the presence of criminals. It has the ability to bring people of different incomes and race together in a mutually beneficial union. For low-income people, Defensible Space can provide an introduction to the benefits of main-stream life and an opportunity to see how their own actions can better the world around them and lead to upward mobility.
Oscar Newman, 1996: 9


In the documentary "The Writing on the Wall" (1974, BBC), Oscar Newman explains and illustrates his concept of Defensible Space using many examples.

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Newman's concept of urban crime prevention was taken up and expanded in the following decades and is now under the name C.rime P.revention Through E.nvironmental D.esign (CPTED).

Examples of urban crime prevention according to CPTED

  1. Building projections such as bay windows are intended to provide a better overview
    be planned
  2. Fences, walls, hedges and other border markings should separate
    but do not offer confusing niches with hiding places
  3. Trees and bushes should be strategically placed
  4. The arrangement of windows from apartments to streets, sidewalks and
    Gassen is supposed to be the social control and surveillance of the living area
  5. The exterior lighting of the paths and buildings must be designed in such a way that
    that no dark areas arise.
  6. A narrower, not too generous arrangement of public areas and
    Places ensures informal social control
  7. Places should be clean and well-lit, but not isolated,
    d. H. there must be visual connections from apartments and paths.
  8. Staircases, elevators and entrance zones should not
    separated, but planned open and clearly visible

Measures of spatial security policies

social control
Use of
(Urban) structural
monitoringPatrols by private security services Neighborhood WatchPreventive video surveillanceCrime Prevention through environmental design
Enclosure and restriction of accessDoormen and concierge servicesAccess controls with biometric or electronic systems Defensible Space (creation of structural and symbolic barriers)
CommunalizationRelocation of security policies to the (sub) municipal level (municipalities, districts, neighborhoods)

Measures of spatial security policies (Glasze, Pütz & Rolfes, 2005, p. 15)

Limits and criticism of urban crime prevention

Urban crime prevention aims to reduce the number of offenses and increase social control. The so-called root causes of crime, i.e. the causes on which the criminal acts are based, are not taken into account here. Accordingly, it can be assumed that crime will not be prevented in principle, but that crime will shift.

In addition, crime prevention measures in urban development assume a simplified causal relationship between space and deviant behavior, which hides the social factors that are the cause of norm violations (cf. police crime prevention of the federal states and the federal states).

A criticism of the urban crime prevention programs must also take into account the aggravation of urban segregation: the beneficiaries of urban crime prevention are primarily city districts and residential districts populated by well-funded and financially strong residents and visitors. Unwanted people (groups) such as the homeless, young people, beggars, skateboarders etc. are increasingly being displaced. The design of park benches, city centers and rows of shops limit usage options. In a series of pictures by Julius-Christian Schreiner, The Guardian shows numerous examples of such “hostile architecture”: -art-in-pictures

This limits the promise of the city as a living space for a heterogeneous population with their diverse life plans and styles. With the argument of security and regulatory necessities, the public Space is increasingly subject to the dictates of economic interests.

Bibliography and sources

  • Jeffery, C.R. (1971). Crime Prevention through Environmental Design. Beverly Hills: Sage.
  • Project website: KORSIT - The construction of rooms in the context of security - room knowledge for the police
  • Ministry for Building and Transport of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia (2009) City and Security in Demographic Change. Report on the results of the working group of the State Prevention Council of North Rhine-Westphalia. Dusseldorf. Available online at:ösungen/Demografischer_Wandel/stadt_und_sicherheit.pdf
  • Newman, O. (1996) Creating Defensible Space. Washington: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Available online at:
  • Newman, O. (1979) Crime prevention through town-planning and architecture. In: Federal Criminal Police Office (ed.), Urban development and crime. Wiesbaden, pp. 103-134.
  • Newman, O. (1972) Defensible Space. Crime Prevention Through Urban Design. Macmillan.
  • Police crime prevention of the federal states and the federal government (no year). Urban development. Police advice. Available online at:
  • Police crime prevention of the federal states and the federal government (2019). Annual report 2018. Stuttgart. Available online at:
  • Schubert, H .; Spieckermann, H .; Veil K. (2007, March 9th) Safety through preventive urban design. Federal Agency for Civic Education. Available online at:
  • Wehrheim, J. (2018, July 9) The monitored city. Public space and social control. "City and Society" dossier. Federal Center for Education. Available online at:
  • Wulf, R. (Ed.) (2014) Crime Prevention in Places. Scientific principles and practical measures. Tübingen writings and materials on criminology, Volume 28 (edited by J. Kinzig & H.-J. Kerner). Tübingen: Institute for Criminology at the University of Tübingen. Available online at:

Category: Urban SociologyTags: CPTED, Crime Prevention, Security