Neighborhood Watch

By Chuck Foster

In the field of crime prevention, there is a concept called “Crime Prevention through Environmental Design” (CPTED). The application of CPTED practices are all around us, but you may not have noticed. For example, in areas prone to loitering, you may not see any outdoor seating. And in areas prone to littering, you may not see flat surfaces on any outside structures where people could leave cups and bottles. A very common CPTED practice is the use of high-strength bollards dividing roadways from pedestrian walkways. Another practice is to limit the entry and exit points into buildings and public gathering places in order to carefully control vehicle and pedestrian ingress and egress. 

The “crime triangle” has three sides: ability, desire, and opportunity. CPTED is an attempt to limit the opportunity to commit crime. Let’s take a moment to apply CPTED, as well as other crime prevention concepts, to the “design” of Lakeport Cluster.

Building Design and Placement

Lakeport has a diversity of design, which includes the location of each structure on the property. For example, some units have no backyard because they sit directly over the lake. Others have the front and the rear of the properties, including the entryways, clearly visible from the street, the pathways, and/or the lake. When thinking crime prevention, one could argue that these design features are a major deterrent to a burglar considering entering and exiting one of these properties. In contrast, there are other units with the rear facing dense woods with little nighttime lighting. Obviously, these units would be more attractive targets for a burglar seeking daytime or nighttime obscurity. For these units, CPTED would suggest several ways to harden the area, such as nighttime outdoor lighting, the removal of dense shrubbery, fencing with a locked gate, fortified doors and windows, and evidence of an alarm system, a dog, or a camera.

Another design issue is the front walkway to some of the interior units. It can resemble a tunnel, which can shroud the activities of a criminal. Adding to the vulnerability is the lack of lighting and the presence of shrubbery that further obscures the view of the walkway from the street. Nighttime indoor and outdoor lighting, non-obscuring shrubbery, a fortified door (e.g., three-inch screws in the strike plate), noise within the house (e.g., the sound of a radio or a TV), and evidence of an alarm system, a dog, or a camera are all risk-reducing measures.

Public Access

The RA pathway through our property, as well as the German Army base across the street (and the attendant foot traffic on Lakeport Way), are interesting considerations in light of CPTED. Allowing unrestricted public access to our property via the pathway could be seen as completely counter to the goals of a secure community. In addition, there is no fencing or other physical structures separating pathway users from Lakeport property. 

From a purely academic perspective, then, one could argue this is a high-risk arrangement. However, one could also argue the opposite. The routine presence of adults passing through our neighborhood means many people have their eyes and ears on our property. It is highly likely that the evidence of suspicious activity or an emergency (e.g., fire, smoke, scream, a suspicious person or vehicle, or an injured person or animal) would be promptly reported. In contrast, Lakespray Way does not have the same volume and frequency of foot and vehicle traffic, which requires more vigilance from cluster residents.

In addition, our close proximity to the shopping center could be considered an even riskier situation. Crime in the immediate area (e.g., shoplifting, simple assault, and fire-code violation) is concentrated at the South Lakes Village Center. Without being a gated community, we are exposed to bad actors coming onto our property. In this situation, the application of CPTED applies to physical barriers (e.g., walls and fencing), the quality of lighting, and the minimization of effective hiding places.          


As with many of the outdoor spaces in Reston, Lakeport Cluster has generally poor lighting when considering the objective of CPTED. There is a history of staff at the Reston Police Station unsuccessfully petitioning the Reston Association to change lighting standards, particularly on the pathways. The belief is that poor lighting facilitates crime and makes it harder to locate people who are lost or in distress. However, if outdoor lighting standards are not going to change, we must adapt our behavior to lower the risk of being a victim of crime.

Other Considerations

Beyond the objectives of CPTED, there are a number of common sense things we can do to reduce the opportunity for someone to commit a crime. It is amazing to read police reports about the following events:

  • stolen vehicle – keys left in the car and/or car running
  • items stolen from inside a vehicle – door unlocked, window down, and/or an item of value clearly visible
  • items stolen from a garage – garage door left open
  • items stolen from inside a house – garage door left open and the door into the house from the garage unlocked or back door left unlocked
  • bicycle stolen – unlocked

The common thread through these events to prevent their occurrence is the use of commonsense precautions to reduce the opportunity to commit a crime.

No comments:

Post a Comment