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7 Steps in using Territorial Reinforcement in Crime Prevention

7 Steps in using Territorial Reinforcement in Crime Prevention
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This week's DOC-Gram describes 7 Steps in using Territorial Reinforcement in Crime Prevention.


Territorial reinforcement is the idea of modifying the environment to emphasis 'ownership' by particular social groups to support social control intended to encourage law-abiding behaviour.


At its simplest, territorial reinforcement makes simple sense. For example, to design a home so that the residents feel it is their territory and will protect it, and others will be aware of that 'ownership'.




The idea of territorial reinforcement originated in the concept of defensible space coined by ethologist J. B. Calhoun in the 1950s from his research into rat behaviours. Oscar Newman developed defensible space theories of crime prevention including territorial reinforcement in the 1970s based on Calhoun's concept.


In Newman's original discussions, territorial reinforcement referred to ways of protectively defining semi-private spaces shared by law-abiding individuals, families and communities. Examples of semi-private spaces included the lobby spaces shared by families in multi-story apartment blocks.


The aim of territorial reinforcement was to make it clear to intruders that these were territory that could be defended, and to provide the structures by which they could be defended.


Territorial reinforcement at that time included physical features that would now be called security, access control and target hardening.


Nowadays, territorial reinforcement primarily refers to CPTED interventions that psychologically-reinforce a sense of ownership and control by law-abiding persons and that those with a criminal intent are trespassing.




When considering how best to use territorial reinforcement it is good to remember it emerged in the US, in a society in which gun ownership, extreme violent defense of person and property, and vigilantism were/are regarded as normal behaviour.


In many other jurisdictions, gun ownership is highly-controlled and vigilantism, together with extreme violent defense of person and property, are illegal. In addition, implementation of changes to environments (such as those resulting from extreme territorial reinforcement) that cause negative effects in health, social, legal, equity and functional terms are associated with legal and financial liabilities.


The above factors can practically influence how territorial reinforcement is best used for crime prevention in many environments and jurisdictions.


Practical Examples of Territorial Reinforcement

  1. A fence round a garden or property. The fence marks out the boundary of ownership of the territory. It indicates ownership and makes it difficult to trespass unknowingly on that territory. It also makes it necessary for a trespasser to have a justifiable reason to be on that territory because it is obvious that they must know they have trespassed.
  2. Visual marker between a house garden and the street. The visual marker may be a row of flowers, a change in texture of the ground (e.g. from grass to paving), a line painted on concrete, a set of small posts or any other visual tool that marks a difference between inside and outside the territory.
  3. Unified visual appearance of parking outside a row of shops. Where a row of shops share the same parking spaces, if the parking spaces have a visually consistent appearance, this indicates they are the territory of the shops.
  4. A town square. A town square indicates to strangers it is the centre of territory 'owned' by a particular community
  5. Consistency of appearance in public building or public space. Think for example of a public library, community centre, mall, church... Consistency of appearance says that the space is a territory with owners who expect certain kinds of behaviours that will be enforced.
  6. Semi-private and semi-public areas between private and public spaces. These are owned territories that provide a transition zone between public and private spaces and emphasize the ownership of the private spaces.
  7. Well maintained appearance of property. Well-maintained appearance indicates a territory with owners who have sufficient resources and care enough about the space to maintain its appearance. This implies they will defend t that space from those who would disturb it.
  8. Presence of physical defenses and access control. The presence of physical defenses and access controls is perhaps the strongest signal of territory and territorial reinforcement and a signal that the territory will be defended from inappropriate behaviour.


Territorial reinforcement as a crime prevention method


Territorial reinforcement can be an effective method of crime reduction. Territorial reinforcement can support a local culture of law-abiding behaviours and identify and discourage strangers with criminal intent. This is the traditional view of territorial reinforcement.


However, territorial reinforcement needs to be used with care.


Territorial reinforcement can both act for or against crime prevention.


Obviously, Territorial reinforcement that supports lawbreaking groups is not likely to reduce crime.


Depending on how territorial reinforcement is implemented it can also positively support social and economic benefits or have adverse social, health, economic, functional and equity effects. Additionally, it can encourage illegal activities such as vigilantism or violent response by otherwise lawful individuals. In the latter case, in some jurisdictions there are associated liability risks for those designing or implementing territorial reinforcement methods intended to result in these outcomes.


Example1: Adverse consequences of faulty territorial reinforcement on public walkways


It is problematic to provide territorial reinforcement so that houses either side of public walkway are given 'ownership' of the public walkway. The effect is for the houses either side to try to exclude anyone from using the walkway, and to generate antagonism from the owners of the houses on users of the walkway.


Example 2: Faulty territorial reinforcement of shops overlooking public space


A public area in a city is a thoroughfare and square with parking and sitting spaces. It is overlooked by a licensed premises, a body-building/fitness club, a backpackers hostel and a motorcycle repair shop. Territorial reinforcement was designed to give 'ownership' of the space to these businesses to enable them to provide control of the area. In reality, the businesses were linked with a crime gang involved in prostitution, drug dealing and stand-over extortion. The territorial reinforcement implemented in the public space enabled them to have greater control over the area in criminal terms.


7 Steps in Using Territorial Reinforcement


Here are 7 steps that address the main issues in using territorial reinforcement in crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED):

  1. Identify the users and user groups that use the space. Gather information about ALL the kinds of users across the whole year.
  2. Identify legitimate and illegitimate uses of the space
  3. Identify when the space is used (time of day, days of week times of year); by which groups of users; at which times; and for which purposes. (Easiest is often to map these into a large table that can be shared and discussed.)
  4. Identify the potential for adverse consequences if particular user groups are given increased territorial authority over other user groups. Pay especial attention to equity issues.
  5. Identify if, and how, territorial reinforcement can be used to provide net positive effects both crime related and in terms of the social, health, economic and practical uses of the space
  6. If it appears that territorial reinforcement can provide sufficient net positive benefits, then devise the practical means of providing territorial reinforcement to produce the intended effects
  7. Identify ways to test over time whether the territorial reinforcement is working to reduce crime and whether it has subsequent adverse effects that require ongoing modifications.


Territorial Reinforcement and other CPTED methods


Territorial reinforcement can be supported by and support all other CPTED methods:


  • Territorial reinforcement has a natural relation with defensible space methods and the establishment of semi-private and semi-public spaces.
  • Territorial reinforcement is strongly supported by the 3Ds approach of Timothy Crowe in terms of defining, designing and designating the territory.
  • Territorial reinforcement can offer the basis for increased natural surveillance of its own and other spaces. It can be also supported by natural surveillance from other spaces
  • As a tool for encouraging law-abiding behaviours, territorial reinforcement depends on good image management and maintenance. As such, it also acts as an influence on nearby spaces through these tools.
  • Territorial reinforcement provides a location for activity support, and both benefits from the crime reducing aspects of it and enables nearby areas to benefit



  1. Cozens, P & Love, T. (2017) The Dark Side of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Oxford: Oxford Research Encyclopedia: Criminology and Criminal Justice. Available:

(c) 2018 T. Love and Design Out Crime and CPTED Centre.

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Dr Terence Love
Design Out Crime and CPTED Centre
+61 (0)434 975 848

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