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James R. Lasley, right, and his research assistant, Kathy Gentry, with their eBusters website. Photo by Kelly Lacefield

Virtual Policing

Professor Develops Crime Fighting Web Site

December 8, 2009

By Mimi Ko Cruz

Two men were stabbed to death in a Halloween night fight. Days earlier, another man escaped death but a bullet grazed his head in a drive-by shooting. Two rapes and a slew of violent robberies occurred the week before.

The crimes, reported on a new virtual policing web site, took place in Los Angeles neighborhoods.

Residents of that city can go to the web site,, to report crimes, said its creator James R. Lasley, professor of criminal justice.

Ebusters is a virtual policing tool that gives residents the ability to “anonymously report criminal or suspicious activity in their neighborhood,” Lasley said. “It’s the Craigslist of reporting crime.”

He said police and neighborhood council groups monitor the site and he and his assistant, Kathy Gentry, who received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Cal State Fullerton earlier this year, are screening the entries as they are posted.

People who would not otherwise call police to report a crime might go online to do so, Lasley said. For example, “someone might witness a vandalism but wouldn’t call police because it’s too much trouble, but reporting it online is simple,” he said.

“Police are just as excited to use ebusters as citizens are,” Lasley said. “It’s been created so that people will report suspicious activities. Police know that it’s the little things that solve the big crimes.”

He pointed to the arrest of serial killer Ted Bundy, who was caught running a traffic light.

Lasley received a $35,000 grant from the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation to launch his project, “Cyber Policing in Los Angeles: An Action Research Policy Analysis of Community-Based Policing in a Virtual Environment."

The grant was Lasley’s fifth from the Haynes Foundation.

The first, a $25,000 grant, was awarded in 1988 for his “Operation Cul-de-sac” project, in which he used cement rails to block off streets in a high murder and assault neighborhood near Jefferson High School in central Los Angeles.

Police reported a decrease in the crime rate in that area and later began using the cement railings in other high-crime neighborhoods. The railings make it difficult for criminals to make a quick get-away by car, thus deterring criminal activity, Lasley said.

“Besides a decrease in crime, Jefferson High School reported a 15 percent decrease in truancy,” he said. “Not a bad side effect.”

Lasley’s other Haynes grants:

  • A $75,000 award in 1994 to figure out ways to help small L.A.-based businesses deter crime. Lasley recalled one store reported thieves would grab armloads of clothing off the racks and take off. One solution he proposed that worked was to place the hangars in different directions, making it hard for someone to grab and run. He also noted that the stores that were targeted in armed robberies had big windows you could see through from the outside, so he proposed covering up the windows with ads, making it difficult for robbers to scope out the place before entering.
  • A $10,000 award in 1996 to start a community-based policing project in L.A. The project involved bringing together residents, a citizens patrol group and the police to open communication and break down issues of mistrust, Lasley said.
  • A $10,000 fellowship in 2007 to tabulate the results of a survey Lasley had conducted of 8,000 Los Angeles police officers in 1992, after the Rodney King beating and before the riots that resulted when the officers who beat him were acquitted.

Lost Papers Found

Several months after the Rodney King beating, then L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates commissioned Lasley to find out what the 8,000 sworn officers thought about the department and whether it could be saved, Lasley said. The officers included retired men and women who had been hired as far back as the early 1950s.

“The place had so much turmoil that I left the survey results in a box on the sixth floor of the Parker Center. The riots happened, Gates resigned and the project was forgotten,” Lasley said. “I never had the chance to tabulate the results.”

Then, in the summer of 2006, Lasley received a phone call from a man who said his brother, an officer who had worked at Parker Center, had died and he had found Lasley’s box among his things.

Lasley said he now is going through the once lost survey, which consisted of questionnaires answered in hand-written form. Many used profanity to punctuate their survey responses. One note reads: “We’re on a ship with nobody at the helm.”

Preliminary results show that “many people within the department were sabotaging it to try to get promoted,” Lasley said. “The L.A. riots were a symbol of the police losing control. There was dissolution in the ranks, corruption in narcotics and a general breakdown of the LAPD’s moral pillars. It gives you a chill when you think how out of control they were.”


According to Lasley’s virtual policing project results, he concluded:

“There is a definite place for virtual community-based policing efforts in the future of crime control efforts by police and citizens. In addition, there should be no fear on the part of police in allowing citizens to be empowered in the crime control process with their own network for reporting crime and suspicious activities. The nature and type of crime that is reported by citizens is unique in many respects, and is of vital importance to police in the furtherance of controlling major crimes as well as improvement of police-community relations.”

“Dr. Lasley is among the most creative social scientists in the California State University system,” said Thomas P. Klammer, dean emeritus of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “His ability to apply his discipline to solving practical community problems has earned him well-deserved renown in California and nationally. One outstanding indicator of the quality of his work is the repeated funding he has won from the Haynes Foundation in tough grant competitions.

“Never content to focus solely on research, Dr. Lasley also has worked hard to open the doors of the LAPD to student interns from Cal State Fullerton,” Klammer added. “The impact of his teaching and research has made us all very proud!”

Lasley, who earned his doctorate in criminal justice from Claremont Graduate University in 1986, joined Cal State Fullerton’s faculty in 1988.

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