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The City of Portland, Oregon

Community & Civic Life

Promote the common good

Main: 503-823-4519

City/County Info: 503-823-4000

TDD: 503-823-6868

1221 SW 4th Ave, Suite 110, Portland, OR 97204

Visibility Matters

Example of a retail store with good visibility

Crime is less likely to occur when offenders are concerned that their activities can be observed. They don’t want to be identified and apprehended.  Improving the natural surveillance or visibility of your business with changes to the layout, lighting and landscaping can help deter crime.

The picture included in this article is an example of design that allows for natural surveillance. People walking by can observe activities in the business, which provides additional oversight of store activities. Employees can see out of the window, allowing them to identify if there is any suspicious behavior occurring.  To improve natural surveillance:

  • Do not post signs on windows or doors that block visibility to the outside. If you need to advertise, be strategic about where you place your signs and the size of your posters.
  • If you have shrubs and trees in entrance ways or in front of windows, trim them so that they don’t compromise views.  Additionally if they are creating concealment areas or blind spots on your property, they should be pruned.
  • Evaluate your interior and exterior lighting. You want the interior and exterior of your store to be evenly lit with no dark pockets or glare. Some lights have poor color rendition, which makes it difficult to identify people and activity.  

When it comes to the layout, it is best if the sales staff are able to view everything that is happening in the store. Elevating the cashier area and locating it near the door not only helps facilitate observation, but also allows you to see customers as they are leaving to ensure that they haven't stolen anything.   

Many store shelves block the visibility of customer activities, which makes it difficult to observe what's happening from one aisle to the next. In this case, clerks would have to patrol the store to check on customers. Positioning shelves with the tallest ones flush against the wall and shorter in the middle can improve observability. Where you need to maintain taller shelving units, consider installing convex mirrors to help increase visibility. Store cameras that will be monitored can also help compensate for blind spots. Keep store shelves, floors and other areas of your store uncluttered. You can more readily identify if something has been stolen when items are maintained in an orderly fashion.

Natural surveillance is an important crime prevention strategy that helps you identify criminal and suspicious activity. 

If you do observe suspicious behavior, call 9-1-1 for immediate threats to life or property and crimes in progress. Otherwise you can contact the police non-emergency number at 503-823-3333.