Design out crime

Good landscaping can help keep your home, and community, safe

Thorny rosebushes, spiky gates and spacious windows aren't just for the aesthete -- they naturally weed out intruders from guests.

"Even criminals have trouble stepping on flowers," said Fifth Precinct Police Officer John Holthusen. "It makes it very obvious that they're not supposed to be there."

Holthusen has implemented tips from a police program called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) to make local problem properties safer. Based on the idea that a comfortable and well-maintained property will deflect criminal behavior, CPTED recommends ways to trim the wear-and-tear of pedestrian traffic and make your house more livable and less vulnerable to crime.

The program relies on access control, territory reinforcement and natural surveillance. While this may sound more like an alarm system than a design system, these objectives can be accomplished fairly simply manner that's also easy on the eyes. After all, the basic premise, as Holthusen puts it, is "anytime the environment adds peace or tranquility, vandalism, burglaries and other crime goes down."

Claim your space

People have a right to loiter in public places. When private spaces feel public, people feel entitled to access. Hence the unfenced corner lot falls victim to the downtrodden path.

"If there's no dividing line between your property and the sidewalk, that gives people permission to trespass," said Holthusen. "People congregate based on the way something is designed."

To manage traffic, residents should establish a perimeter that divides public and private space with a chain link or picket fence -- something that also maintains visibility.

Consider creative and aesthetically appealing solutions for corners and curves. In the dark alley-corridors of the Stevens neighborhood, where drug dealers ducked from police, residents placed spiky wrought-iron gates that literally stopped the dealers in the tracks -- they ran right into them.

First Precinct Police Officer Luther Krueger ordered a French Gothic picket fence for his home to serve as an elegant barrier between his lawn and trespassing regulars. Krueger hasn't spotted anyone cutting through his yard since.

"People have a natural respect for private property," Krueger said. "The properties where we receive the most complaints about loiterers are where there's no definition of boundaries."

You can also create a visual path into your yard with trees and shrubs. A canopy of trees shouldn't reach lower than five feet and shrubs shouldn't exceed three feet. Clear up solid hedges, so you can see through them.

Let the light in

Holthusen recommends making sure you can see out of your windows and, although it may seem counter-intuitive, that outsiders can see in and detect movement inside your home. While people shouldn't be able to peer in and see clear through to your backyard, it's important to send a signal that somebody can see what's going on in your space.

Preserve natural windows and unfettered sight lines. Too much signage on a business storefront, for example, puts the cashier at risk because they can't see what's happening outside. "It's not a camera, just your average citizen watching what's going on," said Krueger. "Big windows discourage loitering."

Of course, windows can also be points of entry into your home. Plant thorny rosebushes or barberry bushes beneath them, however, and you'll have an instant, decorative line of defense.

Distribute lighting fixtures evenly around your home for balanced, moderate lighting. Floodlights create a harsh glare that washes out people's features, making them impossible to identify. Place lamps at eye-level.

If you're going to be gone from your home or office for the day, leave a light on and the radio playing -- it gives the impression someone is still around and watching.

More crime prevention tips are available at

Additional crime prevention materials will also be available at the Fifth Precinct Open House, 3101 Nicollet Ave. S., Saturday, May 17, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. At this annual event, the precinct will also provide a lunch, live music from the Police Band at 12:30 p.m. and K-9, bike safety and other displays and demonstrations. There will also be a drawing for two children's bikes. For more information, call 673-2791.