In the complex sphere of church safety and security, it’s easy to become engrossed in the latest technological solutions and programmatic strategies. Yet, have you considered the role that architectural design and the layout of your building can play in fostering a safer environment? For over seventy years, a crucial aspect of church safety has remained largely out of sight, known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Imagine the possibility of significantly enhancing the safety and security of your church not by adding more gadgets or cameras, but by rethinking your building’s design and layout, repositioning office spaces, or even trimming exterior bushes. 

The integration of CPTED principles can significantly amplify the effectiveness of your safety program. Building design can play a pivotal role in this respect, as I know, drawing from my personal experience in 2013 as the head of counterterrorism at the Mall of America (MOA) in Bloomington, Minnesota. MOA, an expansive retail complex boasting over 7 million square feet and more than 700 retail stores, is so large that it has its own ZIP code. Here, a particular security challenge was presented by a concrete footbridge. This structure, which linked the mall’s south side to adjacent apartments and condos, became a favored escape route for robbers and other criminals, its solid concrete build offering concealment and a quick route to freedom.

Embracing CPTED principles led us to a transformative solution. We demolished the concrete footbridge and erected in its place a glass footbridge. This strategic alteration meant that anyone crossing the bridge became visible from both the Mall and the busy road below. Such visibility deterred criminal activities, leading to a marked reduction in robberies. The footbridge redesign exemplifies how CPTED strategies can be effectively employed. With this context in mind, it becomes clear that CPTED principles are essential in crafting your church’s building and design strategy. By adapting these principles, you can proactively shape the safety protocols within your church, integrating natural surveillance and access control into the architectural design to foster a secure environment.

Principles of CPTED 

CPTED uses multiple tools to assess environmental conditions and, based on those assessment findings, employs intervention techniques to improve the environment’s effectiveness in deterring crime. The five core principles are natural surveillance, natural access control, territoriality, activity support and maintenance. 

Natural Surveillance 

Involves placing architectural features, activities, and people in spaces to maximize visibility. Things such as lighting placement, landscaping uniformity, height, and shape to reduce hiding places for intruders, fencing height and clear visibility through the fence and window locations to increase natural surveillance.

Natural Access Control 

This is a security system that manages the entry and movement of individuals within a space or facility. It assists in channeling people into, alongside, or out of areas and deterring entry through designated entrances and exits. Examples of access control include designated ingress and egress points, shared areas near entrances that allow more surveillance. Visible hallways and foyer entrances. 

Territoriality 

Discourages crime by clearly marking the boundaries of an area, signaling to potential criminals that they are entering a controlled and monitored area and that occupants are using the space for specific purposes. Examples of territoriality include placement of balconies over streets to add to surveillance. Distinct transitions between private, semi-private, and public areas. Lines of demarcation for open spaces, such as retail areas and parks, as well as for private-use and residential areas this is common with mixed-use facilities.

Activity Support 

Promotes authorized, legitimate activities within a public space, which helps the community understand an area’s intended use. Such activities also engage users with the area, creating a sense of ownership and investment. This active participation helps to deter criminal behavior, resulting in a safer environment for all. Examples of activity support include promoting the proper behaviors for visiting a retail space, while discouraging actions, such as loitering. 

Maintenance 

Caring for and maintaining an area for its intended purpose is vital. A lack of care indicates a loss of control and is a sign of tolerance for disorder. For example, the “broken windows theory,” formulated by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in 1982, suggests that damaged facilities, such as broken windows, can attract criminal behaviors. Examples of lack of maintenance include overgrown shrubbery or landscaping, inadequate or unmaintained fencing and worn or Malfunctioning locks. 

A More Simplistic Approach 

Implementing CPTED principles in your church does not necessarily require large-scale, expensive changes like replacing concrete bridges. There are cost-effective and straightforward measures that can significantly improve safety. For example, trimming shrubbery near windows and doors eliminates potential hiding spots for opportunistic criminals, enhancing natural surveillance. Another simple yet effective change is the placement of the church’s reception area. Often relegated to the side entrance way, moving the reception desk to the center of the foyer not only facilitates the church’s welcoming spirit but also serves as an immediate visual deterrent to potential wrongdoers. The reception becomes a hub of engagement and oversight, greeting everyone who enters and subtly reinforcing security.

Simon Osamoh serves as the editor of Security Connections and is nationally recognized for his work in safeguarding houses of worship. He began his career in England, spending 14 years as a detective specializing in serious and organized crime before leading Counter Terrorism at the Mall of America in Minnesota. Simon founded Kingswood Security Consulting and the Worship Security Academy, aimed at providing security solutions to houses of worship. He is the author of two Amazon bestselling books and the host of the Worship Security Academy podcast. For submissions or topic ideas, reach out to Simon at sosamoh@worshipfacility.com

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