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Environmental approaches to tackling

vandalism / criminal damage

This is one in a series of guides designed to share ideas for
Problems of vandalism can often be exacerbated by the
tackling vandalism and other forms of criminal damage. They
very nature of our surroundings. Public spaces should be
are based, as far as possible, on examples we have found
presented in a way that encourages people to use them
from around the UK and further afield. Although in most cases
for legitimate purposes. Vandalism, like many crimes,
these have not been rigorously evaluated, they are reported to
thrives in areas that lack people and visibility. Through the
have been successful in tackling this sort of crime.
redevelopment of problem areas or better design of new
This guide looks at how good design and planning, and actions areas it is often possible to reduce or eradicate many of
such as cleaning up areas, may help tackle criminal damage. these challenges without having to take enforcement or
Other guides already produced in this series cover: other management or maintenance action. If public
• tackling vandalism and other criminal damage; spaces are designed to allow maximum visibility and
• the available powers and how they can be used; promote utilisation by law-abiding members of the public,
then crime and anti-social behaviour is less likely to occur
• tackling youth offenders; and
than in areas that are secluded and rarely used.
• high visibility “policing”.
Designing out crime does not have to be expensive,
Further guides are in preparation including on arson, criminal especially if considered at the planning stage – either
damage to vehicles and analysing criminal damage data. when building new estates or redeveloping existing areas.
These guides are intended to be living documents that can be And the costs associated with dealing with problem areas
up-dated as necessary so if you have any comments on these - in terms, for example, of policing and maintenance - far
guides or if there are any other subjects you would like outweigh the costs of planning and building in security.
covered, please send your suggestions to us via your regional “Safer Places: The Planning System and Crime
Government Office or the Welsh Assembly Government. Prevention”iii - published jointly by the Home Office and
This particular guide does not go into detail on graffiti, as this is the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2004 – provides
covered in a separate “Step-by-step” guide produced as part of detailed advice on how crime and disorder can be tackled
the TOGETHER campaign to tackle anti-social behaviour. via good planning. This is not only relevant to new
developments, it provides a range of ideas that can be
used to modify existing ones and some routes for
promoting the implementation of good practice.
Criminal damage refers to crimes where any person without
lawful excuse intentionally or recklessly destroys or damages
any property belonging to anotheri. Activities resulting in non-
permanent damage (i.e. that can be rectified, cleaned off or
removed at no cost) such as letting down of car tyres should
not be classed as criminal damage, nor should accidental
Any damage around a point of entry to a house or vehicle
should be treated as attempted burglary / vehicle crime rather
than criminal damage if, on the balance of probabilities, one of
those crimes is the more likely offence than criminal damageii.
Vandalism is the term used in the British Crime Survey. Whilst
the definition has been kept as close as possible to that of
criminal damage, it only covers crimes against households and
household property, including cars.

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This guide follows the attributes of safe, sustainable places set Structure - places are laid out so that crime is
out in “Safer Places” but in less detail and more focussed on discouraged and different uses do not cause conflict.
Issues as whether:
Access & movement - providing places with well-defined • buildings and private and communal spaces are laid
routes, spaces and entrances that provide for convenient out to make it more difficult for criminals to move
movement without compromising security. around and operate undetected
• potential offenders and likely targets can be kept
In terms of tackling vandalism and criminal damage, this may
often be about denying offenders access to likely targets. And apart
this can prove effective: • potential guardians are in place

• Gating of alleyways etc. has proved a very popular and, in can be considered at any time, not just when planning
some cases, useful way of tackling crime problemsiv. The new estates or major redevelopments.
Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 facilitated
closure of rights of way where there was evidence that Areas with a high proportion of people under 17 are at
increased risk of crime and disorder. Management of
these were being used to commit crime. This was
extended by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment applications by housing authorities can help to balance
Act 2005 which, amongst other things, allows closure of the numbers of children within an estate or block.
alleyways to tackle anti-social behaviour not just crime. Other things to consider are the positioning and design of
Gating off orders under the 2005 Act will be available in street furniture including low walls that might provide
early 2006 seating and hence encourage young people to
• Good quality, well-designed and located fencing; congregate; telephone boxes and bus stops; telephone
landscaping; planting schemes etc. can also play a junction boxes; etc.
valuable role Parking for cars is also an important consideration. The
In Gateshead, repeated incidents of burglary and criminal British Crime Survey shows that cars parked in garages or
damage at a local school were investigated and poor fence on private driveways are at least risk. And where street or
design and positioning; overgrown vegetation providing hiding other communal parking is inadequate, disputes between
places for offenders; and the availability of potential missiles neighbours could end in criminal damage or more serious
identified as contributory factors. Police and other enforcement crime.
activity only had a temporary effect. The local authority agreed
to replace the fencing and cut back the overgrowth, whilst Surveillance - places where all publicly accessible
the school caretaker regularly inspected the area and spaces are overlooked
removed potential missiles. Natural surveillance can be improved by, for example,
cutting hedges back or down; pruning trees; replacing
There may be other considerations though – for example, are
solid fencing with something easier to see through (and
fences being damaged by people taking short-cuts and could
which is less attractive in terms of graffiti); etc. There is
that be tackled (without causing other crime problems) by
debate about the value of lighting in reducing crime, but it
opening up alternative routes?
does appear to have been effective in some
In Halifax, rather than close off rear alley-ways, the walls were circumstances. Careful thought is needed about the
lowered and replaced by railings increasing natural design and location, however, both to avoid light pollution
surveillance and reducing opportunities for graffiti. Such an and it becoming a target for vandals.
approach could, however, compromise building security which Whilst some areas have employed CCTV with apparent
may need to be addressed via improved locks etc. success, there is very little solid evidence that this works
against criminal damage. As many incidents are not pre-
planned and are carried out under the influence of
alcohol, it is possible that the threat posed by CCTV does
not affect the offender’s decision on whether to commit
the crime, or that offenders simply disguise their identity.

Ownership - places that promote a sense of ownership,

respect, territorial responsibility and community
Engaging local communities (including young people) in
looking after their estates – through, for example, getting

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them involved in clean up schemes - can help to tackle criminal Anti-graffiti paint has also been used successfully in many
damage by promoting ownership of the area, responsibility for areas.
its upkeep and a greater community spirit. Getting them
involved early in deciding what the priorities are and how these Activity - places where the level of human activity is
can be tackled will maximise their commitment. appropriate to the location and creates a reduced risk of
crime and a sense of safety at all times
Engaging local community or faith groups is likely to be
beneficial, but you may need to consider how to involve or at Can legitimate activity by law-abiding people be
least address the needs of those not covered by these groups. encouraged in areas susceptible to criminal damage?
Organisations like the Tenants Participatory Advisory Service Can facilities be provided to give potential offenders
are also well worth talking with. something less destructive to do? Beware though of
creating mixed but incompatible uses that could lead to
Crime Reduction and Environment Weeks (CREWs) have disputes or the displacement and disenchantment of
been introduced throughout Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. potential offenders who had previously not caused a
This is a police-led multi-agency initiative aimed at tackling problem.
crime in specific areas usually where there has been a problem
with disorder or anti-social behaviour. Typically they last a Management and maintenance - places that are
week and resources are put in place to improve the designed with management and maintenance in mind, to
environment as well as targeting offenders and utilising other discourage crime in the present and the future
crime reduction initiatives.
No matter how well designed estates etc. are, some
Southampton, for example, have now held ten CREWS and maintenance and management is necessary to keep
analysis has shown that crime and ASB can be dramatically crime down.
reduced - the events also receive excellent feedback from local
residents and councillors. Areas or individual homes that show signs of criminal
damage or other disrepair may also attract further crime.
In Australia, local people have been encouraged to “adopt” Whilst there is no strong evidence for this, just as rapid
bus shelters – keeping a general eye on them and either repair of damage caused in burglaries reduces the risk of
cleaning up minor vandalism or reporting damage etc. to the further victimisation, it is plausible that rapid repair of
relevant organisation to rectify it. Similar approaches have criminal or other damage will reduce the risk of further
been used for other types of street furniture like telephone incidents. For housing authorities, it also sends out a clear
boxes. message that they care about the welfare of their tenants
The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005
In various parts of the UK, local residents have been asked to contains a variety of provisions for dealing with issues like
keep an eye on schools during holiday periods, reporting any litter, graffiti, fly-posting, fly-tipping and abandoned
problems to the police. vehicles.
Physical protection - places that include necessary, well- The Beatsweep initiative in Waltham Forest involves a
designed security features multi-agency approach to cleaning-up one electoral ward
Providing physical protection against criminal damage is more each month including: removal of graffiti, abandoned
difficult than for crimes like burglary. But there are some things vehicles and rubbish; adult offenders undertaking
that can be effective. Replacing or covering frequently neighbourhood enhancements as part of community
damaged items with replaceable “sacrificial” alternatives (such service orders; a crime prevention trailer to provide
as plastic films or sheets over windows that can be quickly and information, advice and some free gifts (personal attack
more cheaply replaced if damaged or disfigured) or more alarms, target hardening materials); high visibility
durable alternatives (such as laminated glass, grills or shutters presence from police, PCSOs and wardens; and truancy
– though the latter may be more susceptible to graffiti). patrols.
Although more expensive, replacing frequently damaged items Void properties (whether residential, business or other)
with more durable alternatives (or encouraging others to do so) can present particular challenges: they suffer from
may be less expensive in the longer term. reduced natural surveillance and ownership and can offer
Preventing access to communal areas in blocks of flats etc. attractive features to vandals (such as windows to break
can also help prevent vandalism in these spaces, but it’s or blank walls to graffiti). CCTV and radio alarms, or
important to gain the commitment of the residents as it will not alternative form of surveillance like 24 hour community
be effective if they don’t make proper use of it. patrol have been used in various places. Whilst they may
be effective, these approaches are resource intensive and

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therefore only likely to offer short term solutions. Better NEED MORE HELP?
management of voids and tenancies to minimise the time
Further information and assistance on tackling criminal
property is left vacant has been successfully tried in other
damage is also available via your regional Government
areas. There is some anecdotal evidence that filling void
Office / Welsh Assembly Government or from:
properties located over shops as a priority reduces vandalismv.
i) Crime Reduction website (
PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER ii) Together Academies which bring together
practitioners to provide advice and training on
In practice, combinations of the above approaches are likely to
specific issues to transform the way that they tackle
be best.
anti-social behaviour.
In South Ribble, a range of measures was employed in iii) ASB Action Days when an expert practitioner will
identified hotspots including clearing overgrown vegetation; meet with ASB teams and their partners to help find
new landscaping, fencing and gates to restrict access to solutions to intractable problems, refocus action to
vulnerable properties; improving the quality and design of get results, encourage use of the full range of new
street furniture; and removal of litter and fly-tipped material. anti-social behaviour powers or remove blockages
They also advise victims and others at risk to remove or fix that are preventing progress.
possible missiles like stones in the garden; quickly repair any
damage including to fences and walls; enhance fencing; iv) ASB Action Line (0870 220 2000) and website
improve lighting where necessary; and make properties look ( which provide information,
occupied when out. solutions and best practice to help practitioners tackle
anti-social behaviour.
However the problem is tackled, it will almost certainly involve
a partnership approach between a number of agencies and the v) Overseas websites such as the International Centre
local community itself. Early engagement of all partners – from for the Prevention of Crime (http://www.crime-
the very start of the planning process – is crucial. The local; the Center for
police Architectural Liaison Officer will be a key source of Problem-Oriented Policing (; and
advice. the National Criminal Justice Reference Service

i Criminal Damage Act 1971 Section 1

ii Home Office Counting Rules for Recorded Crime
iii ISBN 0-7277-3261-7 Available electronically via the Crime Reduction website
iv Johnson, S. and Loxley, C. (July 2001) Installing Alley-Gates: Practical Lessons From Burglary Prevention Projects

v Petherick, A & Fraser, R. (1992) Handbook for Practitioners. Living Over The Shop UK

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