Crime prevention – The power of a flower

July 5, 2012 | by D. B. "Libby" Libhart
Crime prevention – The power of a flower

When walking into a major theme park you naturally bear to the right. You don't veer from the main pathways. Prohibited areas may not be marked but you instinctively know that you can't go there. So, why is that? The principle is "Crime Prevention through Environmental Design," commonly known as CPTED. The theme park environment has been cleverly designed with gentle slopes to direct walking traffic. Landscaping has been designed with symbolic demarcation and subtle barriers that mark transitions between zones such as different colored or textured pathways, flower beds, ground cover, and decorative fencing. When more substantial barriers are needed, shrubbery and thorny bushes are effective in creating a more formidable obstacle.

The uniqueness and success of CPTED comes from the integration of crime prevention principles and techniques into the architectural design process. Quick serve (QSR) and fast casual restaurants are vulnerable to robbery because of cash transactions with the public, late at night. Four overlapping CPTED principles are particularly effective in comprehensive crime prevention programs to help people feel safer and deter crime. The overall function is to affect behavior and create the impression that activity is monitored and misbehavior will be addressed.

1. Natural Surveillance – Places physical features in ways to maximize the ability to see what's going on. One of the biggest obstacles of natural surveillance in QSR and fast casual restaurants is advertizing plastered over the windows. It prevents police patrols and others from observing activity inside the restaurant, particularly after the sun goes down. The same is true for overgrown plants and bushes that cover the windows. Inside, convex mirrors improve the view of blind spots. A camera system with a monitor in the office provides a view and records activity inside and outside. An enunciator or strobe light that goes off when the back door is opened presents additional awareness. A manager wearing a drive-thru headset during evening and late night hours not only provides awareness of drive-thru activity, but additional security and communications when needed. A window overlooking the kitchen assists in monitoring activity.

2. Physical Security – Properly located entrances, locks, fencing, landscaping and lighting deter crime.

  • Back Door - One of the biggest vulnerabilities to theft and crime is the lack of security controls on the back door. It's often unmonitored by management, left unlocked, and uncontrolled. Never prop the door open, or open the door after dark. Remove the exterior handle. Make sure exterior hinge pins cannot be removed. Policies must be well written with heavy compliance on opening the back door by authorized persons at authorized times.
  • Exterior lighting – Good exterior lighting plans place sufficient lighting where it is needed. As more and more businesses are open to the public 24 hours, many have received complaints about light trespassing into surrounding neighborhoods. Pre-construction plans should include research on the best lighting solution and placement for the property. Leave a few interior lights on when the building is empty.
  • Locks/Safe – Change the exterior locks and combinations to the safe with every change in management. If you haven't changed them, it's conceivable that the ex-shift manager selling cars down the street could get into your safe after hours. Close and lock the safe after every opening and never put the safe on 'day lock'. The safe should be bolted to the floor.
  • Drive-thru window - Train your cashiers to close and lock the drive-thru window after every transaction during evening and late night hours. If you are involved in the pre-construction of your location, locate the office so that it cannot be seen from outside the drive-thru window. Make sure that the drive-thru window cannot be pried up and over the sliding track.
  • Ladders – Place anti-climb guards on all mounted ladders and drain pipes. Keep dumpsters, trash cans, or materials away from the building that may be used to gain access to the roof.
  • Cash Registers – Regularly skim excess cash from registers. After closing leave cash drawer open with the empty till on top.
  • Manager walks – Manager should take routine walks around the premises inspecting for unusual activity and taking note of items for follow-up, i.e. parking lot cleanliness, landscape trimming, adequate lighting, etc.
  • Number of employees – No one should ever be working alone in the restaurant and there should always be a manager present.
  • Freezer/Coolers – Equip with alarms and interior locks that can be unlocked from the inside in the event someone gets locked inside.
  • Restrooms – Eliminate drop ceilings in restrooms. Check all restrooms and other possible hiding places just prior to locking the doors at closing.
  • Payphones – Eliminate payphones from the premises.

3. Territoriality – Use fences, good maintenance, signs and landscaping effectively. Use fencing or landscaping to define outside dining areas, limited access points and mark property boundaries. Keep the premises looking well kept, crisp and clean to portray a sense of pride and ownership in the property. Keep the tables, glass, and floors clean. Repaint as necessary, and keep the exterior free of trash and patch parking lot potholes. Keep fencing away from the building to prevent access to the roof. If CCTV is used, strategically place signs stating that the property is under video surveillance to increase the impact. Have a plan to remove any graffiti immediately.

4. Maintenance – Have a checklist for routine maintenance tasks. Check the parking lot after the sun goes down to ensure lighting is not blocked by overgrown tree limbs. Trim shrubs to less than three feet high and lower limbs of trees to a minimum of six feet to improve visibility lines. Routinely inspect and test alarms, locks, fire extinguishers and CCTV system. A well maintained building and premises shows pride and a sense of ownership in the property and attention to detail. The perception of attention to detail may deter suspicious and/or criminal behavior.

These CPTED strategies rely on the ability to influence decisions that precede criminal acts. The perceptions that the offender may be identified or caught may outweigh the desire to commit the crime. In simple terms: the risk is greater than the reward. A well maintained property with built in crime prevention structures and principles, along with well trained employees, are proven crime prevention strategies. A flower in the proper position integrated with other behavior modifying techniques, has tremendous power to keep employees and customers safer and more secure. Use them wisely.

For more information on security, safety, loss and crime prevention for restaurants, visit For daily tips on restaurant loss prevention, follow on Twitter @LossBusters

Topics: Crime, Insurance / Risk Management, Loss Prevention, Operations Management, Restaurant Design / Layout, Staffing & Training

D. B. "Libby" Libhart
D.B. “Libby” Libhart has more than 30 years of experience in the loss prevention industry. He has provided security and safety leadership in retail settings such as department stores, drug stores and quick-service restaurants. Before launching his own company, LossBusters, Libby served as the Senior Director of U.S. Security and Safety for McDonald’s Corp. He entered the QSR industry with Taco Bell and subsequently YUM Brands. wwwView D. B. "Libby" Libhart's profile on LinkedIn

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