With or Without COVID-19, Some Nimble Court Processes Stick Around

St. Louis County Courts building in Clayton. (Photo: T.L. Witt)

Process changes at some local Missouri courts that occurred in response to COVID-19 may be here to stay regardless of COVID-19 community levels, judges are saying.

Cole County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Jon Beetem said that while the court had previously used occasional video, like for some confined defendants who waived their rights to confrontation, out-of-state witnesses and divorce cases where one party was located at a military site, the pandemic prompted the court to overhaul its equipment and video capability.

“To give you an example, the first few weeks of the pandemic, I ran my courtroom off my iPad,” Beetem said.

Fast forward to March 2022: Missouri’s courts are increasing their in-person proceedings and masks have become optional rather than a requirement, but judges are finding that some parts of court emergency policies make sense even with ebbing COVID-19 levels.

Remote proceedings in uncontested matters

Courtroom policy on which proceedings end up remote or in person varies based on individual judges. 

But Presiding Judge Michael J. Stelzer with the City of St. Louis Circuit Court said that across divisions, less formal discussions across all the court’s divisions can be easily held online, such as motions for continuances and setting cases for trial.

“I would say the less formal the procedure, the more likely the judges are to use Webex,” Stelzer said. “It’s not particularly a good use of the lawyer’s time to travel to the courthouse for literally a one-or-two-minute discussion with the judge about this and then leave to travel back to their office.”

Jackson County Circuit Court’s Presiding Judge J. Dale Youngs said he anticipates continuing to conduct case management conferences virtually.

“So I think no matter what the COVID numbers look like, I think we’ve realized that those kinds of proceedings, and others, can be safely and properly done remotely and I think we’ll continue to see that in the future,” Youngs said.

Others include uncontested matters, such as approval hearings for the settlement of a minor’s claim, a wrongful death action, and approving a person’s ability to settle their structured settlement payments that they’re receiving for one lump sum payment.

“If they’re traveling from one county to another or several counties away to appear in court, it doesn’t make sense to do that just for a setting, or something routine, if they can just jump on Webex and get it done,” Pulaski County Presiding Judge John Beger said.

Beetem said that his juvenile docket is almost entirely on video. While he prefers in-person review hearings upon first meeting parents of minors before him, he said that virtual hearings have greatly increased participation of parents.

“That’s probably the biggest advantage I’ve seen in juvenile cases,” Beetem said.

In a March 10 town hall meeting for the St. Louis County Circuit Court, its judges relayed the court’s plans to increase in-person proceedings. The court has phased out most of its reliance on Webex already in many of its divisions, but it is honoring summons sent out in January that still offered virtual proceedings as an option in cases before the associate civil and criminal courts. Associate Circuit Judge Jeffrey Medler estimated phasing out Webex for those proceedings by early June.

Presiding Judge Mary Otts said in the meeting that excluding appearances and evidentiary hearings that require the administration of an oath that must be held in person, informal proceedings may continue virtually rather than in person based on the judge’s discretion.

“That’s not to say that Webex is being abandoned,” Otts said. “That is not the case. There will be some efficiencies and some manners in which the judges in the associate criminal courts use Webex.”

Whether or not to go remote in court isn’t the only major shift in Missouri courtrooms.

Voir dire that’s here to stay

Stelzer said that for years, hundreds of jurors showed up on Monday mornings in St. Louis and the court had a “rough idea” of who needed jurors.

“It was a cattle call,” Stelzer said. “You had people lined up outside the courthouse coming in for jury duty, there’d be so many.”

Now, Stelzer said the court determines which cases are going to trial at least a week or two weeks ahead of time. Larger cases, which might have multiple criminal defendants, are scheduled between six to eight weeks in advance. Stelzer said it’s harder to find jurors who can participate in a longer trial, so jurors are brought in specifically for that case a week before.

“That system, how we’re doing that, was really developed in response to COVID,” Stelzer said. “We just could not bring in a large number of jurors like we used to.”

Stelzer said this has created more certainty for attorneys as they approach a jury trial in a given week.

“I think they’re not waiting around wondering if they’re going to get jurors or whether their case is going out,” Stelzer said. “It’s a little more certain that you’re going to trial, and there will be jurors for your trial.”

While Stelzer doesn’t anticipate ever eliminating the new voir dire process, the court is increasing the size of its weekly jury pools by April 18. 

Youngs of Jackson County said he anticipates his court’s nimble post-March 2020 approach to jury selection will be here to stay at least in the next few months.

“So I don’t anticipate if things continue to look good, we’ll not go back to the way we usually have done things,” Youngs said. “But for the time being, I think we’ll continue to summon jurors, select jurors for our cases, and hold cases the way we’ve been doing it.”

Youngs said that looking back on cases where attorneys highlighted the importance of the opportunity to explore the backgrounds of potential jurors leads him to believe that returning to a 250-strong jury pool is best.

“I think lawyers place a fair amount of importance on the jury selection process, and rightly so,” Youngs said.

At the same time, he’s received feedback from lawyers that they’ve had no trouble adapting to questioning smaller jury pools in less time.

“Because with the smaller group, they can be more efficient,” Youngs said. “You don’t have 72 people that you’re asking questions of, you have 35 people.”

Beger said that during COVID peaks in Pulaski County the court repurposed other buildings, including a community hall, a middle school gym and a Lion’s Club that held bingo, to spread out potential jury members for jury selection. Those precautions have subsided since then, and more recent jury trials are conducted the same as before, with the exception of some masks peppered throughout the jury box.

“I had a jury trial yesterday in Waynesville,” Beger said on March 16. “We just did it the good old-fashioned way.”

But in the event of a new variant or a rise in community levels, Stelzer said his court is prepared for whatever comes.

“We’ve had two years of doing it, and if we had go back — and I’m not saying it would be fun or that people would like it — but at least we have the orders crafted in place and we have procedures that we could put in place that we’ve had in place previously,” Stelzer said. 


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Homicides Fall 26 Percent to Pre-COVID Levels in St. Louis

By Erin Heffernan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch | Shared on Police1.com


St. Louis police Chief John Hayden’s phone lights up — day or night — when there’s a homicide in the city.

Heading into 2021, after the city had seen a history-making surge in murders in 2020, the chief was bracing for another year with his phone abuzz with bad news.

But sometime last spring, the surge began to wane.

St. Louis criminal homicides fell about 26% last year — to 195 from 263 in 2020. That returned the city’s total to near its average in the five years before 2020. In each of those years, the city’s homicide rate led the nation’s big cities.

Still, 2021 moved in the right direction. For that, Hayden is thankful, he told the Post-Dispatch this week.

“That surge was definitely noticeable. I had a lot of sleepless nights.”

Meanwhile, St. Louis County police — the area’s next-largest law enforcement agency — investigated about 28% more murders last year within the department’s jurisdiction, which covers more than a third of the county. The 55 killings marked the most in the county police jurisdiction since at least 1984, according to department and FBI crime data.

There were an average of 36 homicides in the same area in the previous five years.

St. Louis County police Sgt. John Wall, of the robbery and homicide investigations unit, said personal feuds, domestic killings and the prevalence of guns may be driving that trend.

“There’s parts of North County where just about everybody over 12 has access to a gun,” Wall said. “So that’s part of the problem.”

Comprehensive law enforcement data on homicides for the entire county is not available, as many of the more than 55 police agencies in the county have not submitted final totals to the Missouri Highway Patrol, which compiles the state’s crime stats.

But there were at least 89 killings in the county in 2021, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s homicide tracker, which launched online this week and is derived from news coverage of killings in the region.

That compares with 114 murders reported countywide in 2020, and an average of 78 annually in the five years before that, according to Missouri Highway Patrol police data.


St. Louis fared better than many other large cities in 2021.

Homicide totals returned to pre-pandemic levels here, while other big-city departments saw killings continue to rise following the 2020 spike.

The warmest months, which typically spark the most homicides, drove the city’s drop. From May through August last year, the city’s murder count fell by more than half to 63, compared with 136 in 2020.

Hayden said his department’s work targeting the most violent areas and people, as well as an easing of some desperation and anxiety caused by the pandemic, may be factors behind the reduction in murders.

“I think they’ll be studying that for a long time, but that’s at least one explanation,” he said.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones told the Post-Dispatch in an interview that changes her administration made in policing have moved the city’s homicide totals in the right direction.

Her public safety director, former St. Louis police chief Dan Isom, introduced new policing strategies over the summer, adding more officers on duty during high crime times and in areas where crime was spiking.

The department continued to support the “Cops and Clinicians” program launched by previous Mayor Lyda Krewson’s administration in January 2021. The program puts mental health professionals in police cars with St. Louis officers to provide resources to people in crisis at crime scenes. The program has logged more than 3,700 interactions since it was launched, according to city data.

The mayor has said the goal of the program is to improve community relationships with police and help defuse crises before they escalate to violence.

“I’ve said over and over and over again that this is an all-hands-on-deck effort that is going to take everybody doing their part, not only in law enforcement, but also in the community,” Jones said. She added: “But again, one homicide is one too many. We know that we have a long way to go.”

This year, Jones said, her administration plans to dedicate $5 million to expand Cure Violence, a violence-reduction program that hires people from high-crime areas to works as “interrupters.” They help people to find jobs and get other support while also de-escalating conflicts before guns are drawn.

Neighborhoods for the expansion have not yet been selected, Jones said. The program launched in 2020 and is operating in parts of five neighborhoods: Walnut Park East, Walnut Park West, Hamilton Heights, Wells-Goodfellow and Dutchtown.

Overall, homicides have dropped in the Cure Violence neighborhoods. Totals from all areas went from 54 in 2019, to 55 in 2020 and 30 in 2021.


The homicide rate wasn’t the only improvement in the city in 2021.

Reports of violent crimes — homicides, manslaughter, rape and aggravated assaults — were down about 11% overall in the city through October compared with 2020, according to the most recent available data published by St. Louis police. City police changed systems for tracking crime statistics in 2021, but the Bureau of Criminal Justice Statistics found the change should typically account for about a 1% increase in violent crime totals.

St. Louis police also registered the department’s highest murder clearance rate since 2012.

City police had a clearance rate of 55% last year. That puts St. Louis on par with the national average of about 54% of homicide cases cleared, according to FBI statistics. In 2020, the city’s rate was just 36%.

Clearance rates divide the number of homicides in a year by the cases cleared that year, regardless of what year the solved cases occurred. That means the high number of unsolved homicides in 2020 could contribute to the higher clearance rate in 2021.

Fifteen cases in which police made an arrest but St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner’s office declined to file charges in 2021 are included in the 108 homicides considered cleared by police.

Hayden said he thinks improved cooperation from witnesses helped the department close more homicide cases.

“We’re getting seemingly more cooperation with folks that are telling us more information,” he said. “And so again, I think that all goes toward showing that the relationship between the community and the police is improving, when people are willing to share more.”

Average caseloads for homicide detectives also fell in the city from 10 each in 2020, to eight in 2021. Hayden redirected the department’s six gang unit detectives to help homicide investigators this year to ease the workload, he said.

Since 2016, St. Louis homicide detectives had handled an average of nine to 13 cases a year, far higher than the three to six recommended by policing experts, the Post-Dispatch reported in 2021.

Homicides in the city continue to be concentrated in north St. Louis, which encompasses eight of the nine neighborhoods with the most killings last year. About 91% of homicide victims in the city last year were Black. A gun was the sole weapon used in 95% of the killings.

Fifteen of the city’s homicide victims were younger than 17, a drop from 17 the year before.

While St. Louis trends improved, homicides were up about 6.5% through 2021 in the nation’s 99 largest cities, according to the most recent data collected by crime analyst Jeff Asher, a co-founder of AH Datalytics.

Murder was up last year in 65 of those 99 big cities.


Within the last four years, St. Louis police have seen a jump in a category of killings not counted in the city’s criminal homicide total: self-defense.

There were 26 killings classified as justifiable by police last year. The large majority of those did not involve a law enforcement officer but rather a claim of self-defense made by a civilian, according to department data.

Before 2018, the city had averaged about seven justified homicides a year. The number increased to 10 in 2019 and 16 in 2020.

Hayden said Missouri’s self-defense and gun laws are driving the upward trend.

Over the past 15 years, the state Legislature has repealed requirements for gun permits and safety training to carry a concealed weapon. At the same time, legislators expanded legal safeguards for use of a gun in self-defense, including in 2016 removing the requirement that people attempt to back away from trouble in public before using deadly force if there is fear of bodily harm.

“People are more comfortable with making a challenge,” Hayden said. “A lot of our homicides are personal disputes and the challenge (of) self-defense is something that I think has been offered quite a bit more often.”

Adding self-defense killings into the city’s homicide count, total homicides would still have dropped 22% in 2021 from 2020.


As in the city, homicides in St. Louis County are intensely concentrated to the north.

The Post-Dispatch homicide tracker found 85 of the 89 killings recorded in 2021 occurred north of Interstate 64 ( Highway 40) and more than 70% of them happened north of Interstate 70.

Wall, the county homicide sergeant, said that beyond the prevalence of guns, he thinks the rise of social media may play a role in disputes growing so heated that they end in violence.

“People are angrier. It’s getting to the point of pulling out a gun faster,” he said.

Despite the rise in killings in 2021, the county police jurisdiction’s homicide rate — about 14 murders for every 100,000 residents — remained far lower than in St. Louis. The city saw about 65 murders for every 100,000 residents last year.

The Post-Dispatch homicide tracker shows county homicides in 2021 clustered in communities near the city.

Police leaders acknowledged an increasing number of crimes spanning the city-county border when they launched a pilot program in 2020 to combine efforts in Jennings in the county and the city’s Walnut Park West neighborhood.

“Crime doesn’t know geographical boundaries, which is why it’s in the region’s best interest to address public safety together,” then-Mayor Krewson said at the time.

About 80% of 2021 homicides investigated by St. Louis County police by early December were committed with a firearm.

In recent years, Wall said a new category of cases has emerged with parents charged after their young children were killed or seriously injured through contact with the drug fentanyl.

Parents were charged with exposing their young children to fentanyl in at least four cases in St. Louis County last year, including at least one homicide. One-year-old Emya Woods died in August from fentanyl exposure.

County homicide detectives handled an average caseload of 10 to 12 cases each, and their clearance rate was high — 96%, according to department statistics.

“We put in an extreme amount of hours. That’s what people don’t understand the most,” Wall said. “These guys are canceling vacations, missing off days, missing birthdays. You work until the work is done.”


Join the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association and proudly display your support for your local law enforcement and Missouri sheriffs.
Your tax-deductible contribution will go a long way to ensure the office of Sheriff in Missouri remains a strong, independent office answerable to those citizens that it is sworn to serve and protect.

Law Enforcement Officers Fatalities Report Released 2021 Was Deadliest Year for Law Enforcement Officers in History

The number of law enforcement professionals nationwide who died in the line of duty in 2021 increased 55% over the previous year, according to preliminary data provided by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), the leading authority on officer fatalities.

NLEOMF announced in its official 2021 Law Enforcement Officers Fatalities Report that as of December 31, 2021, 458 federal, state, county, municipal, military, campus, tribal, and territorial officers died in the line of duty during the past year, representing a 55% increase over the 295 officers who died in the line of duty in 2020. In the category of “Other” causes, which includes 301 Covid-19-related deaths, the number of fatalities is 338, an increase of 63% over 2020’s line-of-duty fatalities in this category.

“This time of year always reminds us of the sacrifice of law enforcement and the importance of our mission to honor the fallen, tell the story of American law enforcement, and make it safer for those who serve. The year 2021 will go down as the year of the most line-of-duty fatalities since 1930 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and increases in traffic fatalities and firearms ambushes,” said National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund CEO Marcia Ferranto.

Most significant in the 2021 Fatalities Report are the number of officer deaths in the category of “other” causes, which increased 63% over the number of deaths from other causes in 2020 due to officers who died from contracting Covid-19 in the line of duty.

In addition to the 301 Covid-19 deaths, 37 officers died from other causes, including 25 officers who died in the line of duty from health-related illnesses, such as heart attacks, strokes, and 9/11-related illnesses. In addition, 4 officers were beaten, and 4 officers drowned in 2021. There were 2 officers stabbed to death, 1 was killed when their patrol vehicle was swept away by floodwaters, and 1 was killed in a tornado.

Firearms-Related Fatalities

Firearms-related fatalities claimed the lives of 62 officers in 2021, a 38% increase compared to the 45 officers killed in firearms-related incidents in 2020.

Of the 62 firearms fatalities:

  • 19 were ambushed and killed
  • 8 were investigating suspicious activities or persons
  • 7 were attempting an arrest
  • 7 were killed responding to domestic disturbance calls, which led to a tactical situation and an ambush
  • 7 were disturbance calls, which led to a tactical situation
  • 3 were killed during traffic enforcement, which led to an ambush
  • 3 were fatally shot responding to burglary or robbery in-progress calls
  • 3 involved drug-related investigations
  • 2 were killed during tactical encounters
  • 2 were inadvertently and accidentally shot and killed
  • 1 was killed during an encounter with a suicidal subject.

Traffic-Related FatalitieTraffic-related fatalities increased 38% with 58 deaths in 2021 compared to 42 deaths in 2020.

Of the 58 traffic-related deaths:

    • 19 were automobile crashes involving a collision with another vehicle or fixed object
    • 9 were single-vehicle crashes
    • 27 were struck-by fatalities
    • 3 officers have been killed in motorcycle crashes

Top 6 States with the Largest Number of Law Enforcement Officer Fatalities

  • Texas experienced the largest number of law enforcement officer fatalities of all U.S. states with 84 line-of-duty deaths
  • Florida had the second highest number with 52 officer deaths
  • Georgia had the third highest number with 39 officer deaths
  • California had the fourth highest number with 24 officer deaths
  • North Carolina had the fifth highest number with 21 officer deaths
  • Tennessee had the sixth highest number with 18 officer deaths

In addition, 45 federal officers, 7 territorial officers, and 3 tribal officers died in the line of duty this year. Only 10 states and the District of Columbia did not lose an officer this year.

There were 417 male officers killed in the line of duty, and 41 female officers. The average age of the fallen officers is 48, with 17 years of service. On average, officers left behind two children.

There are currently 22,611 names of officers killed in the line of duty inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC, dating back to the first known death in 1786. The deadliest year on record for law enforcement was 1930 when 312 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty.

The statistics released are based on preliminary data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and do not represent a final or complete list of individual officers who will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in 2022.

NLEOMF CEO Marcia Ferranto and Troy Anderson, Executive Director of Officer Safety and Wellness, addressed the public via Livestream at 8:00am Eastern today, January 11, about the findings. To watch the Livestream, tune into the NLEOMF Facebook page or watch on YouTube.

For a complete copy of the 2021 Law Enforcement Officers Fatalities Report, go to: LawMemorial.org/FatalitiesReport.


Join the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association and proudly display your support for your local law enforcement and Missouri sheriffs.
Your tax-deductible contribution will go a long way to ensure the office of Sheriff in Missouri remains a strong, independent office answerable to those citizens that it is sworn to serve and protect.

US Traffic Deaths Spike Even as Pandemic Cuts Miles Traveled

This Nov. 17, 2020, file photo shows where an Oregon man crashed a Tesla while going about 100 mph, destroying the vehicle, a power pole and starting a fire when some of the hundreds of batteries from the vehicle broke windows and landed in residences in Corvallis, Ore. (Corvallis Police Department via AP File)​

Pandemic lockdowns and stay-at-home orders kept many drivers off U.S. roads and highways last year. But those who did venture out found open lanes that only invited reckless driving, leading to a sharp increase in traffic-crash deaths across the country.

The nonprofit National Safety Council estimates in a report issued ​in March​ that 42,060 people died in vehicle crashes in 2020, an 8% increase over 2019 and the first jump in four years.

Plus, the fatality rate per 100 million miles driven spiked 24%, the largest annual percentage increase since the council began collecting data in 1923.

And even though traffic is now getting close to pre-coronavirus levels, the bad behavior on the roads is continuing, authorities say.

“It’s kind of terrifying what were seeing on our roads,” said Michael Hanson, director of the Minnesota Public Safety Department’s Office of Traffic Safety. “We’re seeing a huge increase in the amount of risk-taking behavior.”

Last year’s deaths were the most since 2007 when 43,945 people were killed in vehicle crashes. In addition, the safety council estimates that 4.8 million people were injured in crashes last year.

Federal data shows that Americans drove 13% fewer miles last year, or roughly 2.8 trillion miles, said Ken Kolosh, the safety council’s manager of statistics. Yet the number of deaths rose at an alarming rate, he said.

“The pandemic appears to be taking our eyes off the ball when it comes to traffic safety,” Kolosh said.

Of the reckless behaviors, early data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show speed to be the top factor, Kolosh said. Also, tests of trauma center patients involved in traffic crashes show increased use of alcohol, marijuana and opiods, he said.

In Minnesota, traffic volumes fell 60% when stay-home orders were issued early in the pandemic last spring. Hanson said state officials expected a corresponding drop in crashes and deaths, but while crashes declined, deaths increased.

“Almost immediately the fatality rate started to go up, and go up significantly,” Hanson said, adding that his counterparts in other states saw similar increases. “It created less congestion and a lot more lane space for divers to use, and quite honestly, to abuse out there.”

In late March and early April, the number of speed-related fatalities more than doubled over the same period in 2019 in the state, Hanson said. Last year, Minnesota recorded 395 traffic deaths, up nearly 9% from 364 in 2019.

Drivers also used the empty roads to drive extreme speeds. In 2019, the Minnesota State Patrol’s 600 troopers handed out tickets to just over 500 drivers for going over 100 mph (160 kph). That number rose to 1,068 in 2020, Hanson said.

Traveling over 100 mph makes crashes far more severe, the safety council said.

The high number of speeding drivers is continuing even as traffic is starting to return to pre-pandemic levels, according to Hanson.

The safety council is calling for equitable enforcement of traffic laws, infrastructure improvements, mandatory ignition switch locks for convicted drunken drivers, reducing speed limits to match roadway designs, and laws banning cellphone use while driving, among other recommendations to stem the deaths.

The council collects fatal crash data from states on public and private roads. The numbers released on Thursday are preliminary, but every year are only slightly different from the final numbers, Kolosh said.

By Tom Krisher​ ​Associated Press | Police1.com​

National Sheriffs’ Association Offering Free PPE to Sheriffs’ Offices

​The National Sheriffs’ Association is offering all sheriff’s offices PPE masks at no cost through a partnership with Ford Motor Company.

Last year, through similar partnerships with the REFORM Alliance, Motorola, SwabTek and Under Armour, the NSA delivered more than 2.5 million masks to 48 states.

Below is a description of the masks. There is no limit to the amount of masks​​ that offices can order.

Mask description:
Inner layer of 30GSM Spunbond polypropylene
Middle Layer 25GSM melt blown polypropylene semi-permeable
Outer layer of 30GSM Spunbond polypropylene
Side Seam 40GSM Spunbond polypropylene
Nose Piece, Plastic with steel insert
Ear loops are an Elastic Fabric (No Latex)

Please go www.ppe.ford.com to order.

If you have, any questions please contact Pat Royal at patrickroyal@sheriffs.org.

Former Miller County Sheriff Dies of COVID-19

Former Miller County Sheriff Bill Abbott has died following a battle with COVID 19. According to a member of the family, the former Sheriff was placed on a ventilator on December 17th.

Though he made progress, he developed a second infection on the 28th. He passed away on Monday, January 4.

Sheriff Abbott spent more than 16 serving the residents of Miller County. He was first appointed to the office in April 1999 and retired in December 2016.

During his time as sheriff, he was instrumental in forming the Mid-Missouri Drug Task Force and establishing policies and procedures for deputy conduct.

Before his election as sheriff, he served in the Missouri National Guard for 22 years. There he held a variety of positions, including a motor vehicle operator, materials handler, and armory sergeant for the 135th Maintenance Unit.

In 2019, Governor Mike Parson appointed Sheriff Abbott to to the Petroleum Storage Tank Insurance Fund Board of Trustees.

This is what current Sheriff Louie Gregoire had to say about the former Sheriff Abbott:

“It is with a heavy heart, that we regret to inform everyone of the passing of retired Miller County Sheriff Bill Abbott. Bill was a wonderful man who loved his community and family. My staff and I will miss him, and our prayers are with his family.”

Photo provided by the Abbott family

The Many Challenges for Law Enforcement in 2020

This has been a tough year for law enforcement. The actions of a small handful of officers in some unfortunate and disheartening incidents received nationwide media attention that quickly led to mass protests and demonstrations against law enforcement. This civil unrest and the inaccurate narrative that paints all officers as bad has had an adverse impact on the hundreds of thousands of officers who do their job honorably and with integrity each day.

The Major Cities Chiefs Association, which is comprised of law enforcement leaders from 69 of the largest police agencies in the United States, detailed the impact of the unrest that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. The association found that more 2,000 law enforcement officers were injured within the first weeks of the protests and unrest. Between May 25 and July 31 there were 8,700 protests nationwide with 574 declared as riots with violence and various criminal acts.

Just as it is unwarranted to label all protesters as engaging in criminal activity, it is equally unwarranted to label all police officers as responsible for the injustices that we have all witnessed by a few police officers.

Now that the riots have subsided, the movement to defund police departments continues to have a demoralizing impact on the hundreds of thousands of officers who daily put their life on the line for the citizens that they serve. In addition, the Defund the Police movement undermines the opportunity to engage in real police reform to prevent rare occurrences of police misconduct. Reform can be accomplished through increased training, accountability standards, and field supervisory reforms. The Defund the Police movement, on the other hand, would only diminish law enforcement’s capability to address crime in the community and would likely make communities more unsafe.

Another nightmare for law enforcement this year has been the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike many professions, telecommuting is not possible in law enforcement. According to the Council on Criminal Justice, homicides in 20 major cities in the United States increased by 37% from May to June, led by Chicago, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee. Aggravated assaults increased by 35% during the same time. This, coupled with the riots and protests this summer, has led to lots of interactions between the police and the communities they serve.

This may explain why “more police officers have died from COVID-19 this year than have been killed on patrol,” according to the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP), a nonprofit organization that tracks law enforcement fatalities in the line of duty.

At least 101 officers have died from COVId-19, while at least 82 have died by other means, as of September, according to ODMP.

This year has no doubt had an impact on police morale. A study involving anonymous surveys provided to one agency in the Midwest found that around 80% of officers have considered leaving their police agency this year and 40% felt that morale was as low as it has ever been.

Most Americans never have any significant interaction with law enforcement. Therefore, it is especially important now that law enforcement officers throughout the United States be true representatives of the dedication and professionalism that is displayed day in and day out. Such displays will overshadow the false media narrative and the negative, unfounded impressions of law enforcement expressed by the misguided Defund the Police movement.

​By ​Dr. Jarrod Sadulski ​| American Military University Edge

About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski ​is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies at APU. Jarrod was selected as the Coast Guard’s Reserve McShan Inspirational Leadership Award recipient for 2019. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.
Unsplash Photo by Kayle Kaupanger

Investigating Holiday Crimes During a Pandemic

Mostly everyone – including the criminals – loves the holidays. Your city will likely see an increase in crime, especially white-collar crime, over this year’s holiday season. But this year’s increase in crime is going to look a bit different because of nationwide political pressure, low employee morale and, of course, the coronavirus.

COVID-19 has affected us all, and we are all hopeful for significant health improvements in 2021. Unfortunately, the coronavirus created more than just health problems, it led to COVID-related crimes.

COVID crimes are any crimes related to COVID-19. Just as infection rates of COVID-19 will increase well into the winter, so will COVID-related crimes.

Here are four common COVID-related crimes agencies should prepare for during this holiday season:


Charitable donation fraud always increases toward the end of the year. Holidays create a contagious spirit of giving. Even those Ebenezer Scrooge-types who don’t have the spirit of giving may still want to donate more just to claim those end-of-year tax credits.

What adds fuel to the chestnut fire is that charitable donation fraud also increases during high-profile disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and pandemics. Criminals are using this one-two punch of the holiday season pandemic to really exploit the vulnerable.

Charity donation fraud can come in many forms: emails, cold calls, social media posts and carefully drafted crowdfunding platforms. Criminals can be local, national, or international, making finding the correct jurisdiction that much more difficult.

Investigators should track the money in these cases. Money leads to suspects. Spend a few extra minutes asking your victims how they transferred the money. Cash App, Venmo, Zelle and PayPal are just a few of the preferred methods for criminals.

Investigators should take time to educate the victim. Encourage the victim to always do their homework before giving. They can use Charity Navigator or the IRS’s Tax-Exempt Organization Search to verify the organization’s status.


Employee embezzlement fraud also increases during the holiday season because of the pressure to buy gifts, pay bills, or keep up with the neighbors.

COVID-19 forced many companies to move to a work-from-home model. Most companies are unfamiliar and unprepared for this monumental shift in the workplace.

Embezzlements and other white-collar crimes increase when employees are left unmonitored at home or if the company does not separate duties. As investigators, ask your victim businesses when they changed to a work-from-home model and what responsibilities the work-from-home employee has.

Police investigators should always be teachers. If you see an overlap in employee duties and those duties should be separated, tell the victim business. Education is the key to prevention.


Sweetheart scams are the third most common COVID-related crime. Sweetheart scams increase during holiday seasons and directly after a disaster such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sweetheart scammers target emotions. The pressures from the holidays, COVID-19 stressors and even a sudden loss of a loved one will all leave a victim vulnerable to sweetheart scams. Scammers do not care about the victim. They do not care the victim is stressed, and they really do not care the victim just lost a loved one. They only care about money.

Just like charitable donation scams, investigators should always track the money. They should also ask often-forgotten questions like how long the relationship was and if the victim has recorded conversations or messages.

Investigators can also teach the victim simple ways of avoiding scammers, such as never sending money to someone they have never met in person.


Retail theft has been around for a long time. People steal, and companies know it. That is why many companies hire loss prevention officers, especially around the holidays. Since COVID-19 mandates, many stores limit the number of patrons that remain inside their store. But what happens when companies limit the number of patrons in their stores. Does retail theft decrease? Not exactly.

Stores are forced to offer added online services like free curbside pickup, free two-day shipping and free extras to lure patrons to their online store. Credit card fraud, as you would expect, naturally increases with the increased online traffic. Retail theft is now shifting from in-person to online.

COVID also stoked the fire on return fraud. Return fraud is a newer type of fraud created because companies allowed receipt-less returns. Shoplifters would steal an item from the store then return it without a receipt for cash or credit. Return fraud was dramatically decreasing because companies started to require a receipt or proof of payment after losing tens of millions of dollars a year. Because of COVID restrictions, many companies relaxed their receipt policy to lure more patrons to their store.

Online discount codes and online coupons only make it worse. Organized criminals buy large amounts of products at a discounted or coupon rate, then return the items to the physical store for full credit. The 10% discount now becomes a 10% profit when returned. Criminals can also make online purchases using stolen credit cards, then return the item for store credit, gift cards, or cash.

I hope when you look at the beautiful white snow of winter, you think of white-collar crime. Yes, 2020 has been challenging for law enforcement, but don’t lose track of what is important. Have fun this holiday season, microwave the stale dinner rolls to make them softer and always be safe.

By Joshua Lee | Police1.com

About the author

Joshua Lee is an active-duty police sergeant for the City of Mesa (Arizona) Police Department. Before promoting, Lee served five years as a patrol officer and six years as a detective with the Organized Crime Section investigating civil asset forfeiture, white-collar financial crime and cryptocurrency crimes.

Lee is a cryptocurrency, money laundering and dark web consultant for banks, financial institutions and accountants throughout Arizona. He also serves as one of Arizona’s subject matter experts on cryptocurrency crimes and money laundering.

Lee holds a BA in Justice Studies, an MS in Legal Studies and an MA in Professional Writing. He has earned some of law enforcement’s top certifications, including the ACFE’s Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE) and the IAFC’s Certified Cyber Crimes Investigator (CCCI).

Lee is also an adjunct professor at a large national university and smaller regional college teaching, law, criminal justice, government and English courses. He instructs police in-service training and teaches at the regional police academy.

Photo by Casper Camille Rubin | Unsplash.com

News from CRI-TAC The COPS Office Collaborative Reform Technical Assistance Center

Police officers wear protective masks while maintaining a road block on the bridge leading to a drive-through testing facility. Angus Mordant—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Protecting Our Law Enforcement Officers As They Serve The Community During A Pandemic​

As millions of Americans try to limit their exposure to the possibility of contracting COVID-19, there are certain groups that need to stay on the front lines, and law enforcement is one of those groups. While the predominant focus is on staying physically healthy, often overlooked is the mental toll faced by the officers and deputies, who are valiantly continuing to do their jobs in the face of a worldwide pandemic. To that end, CRI-TAC is offering two webinars that will focus on the mental health of law enforcement doing their jobs during this trying time:

Maintaining Morale During a Public Health Crisis Webinar

On October 19, 2020, the COPS Office Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center (CRI-TAC), in conjunction with CRI-TAC partners NSA and IACP, will host a webinar on what sheriffs and other law enforcement leaders can do to help maintain and improve morale among personnel – both sworn and civilian – during a crisis. Speakers will include Sheriff Garry McFadden, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. To register for the webinar, please visit https://sheriffs.org/CRITAC-StaffMorale-Webinar.

How to Prevent a Global Crisis from Becoming a Personal One: Stress Management in High-Stress Times Webinar

On October 27, 2020, the COPS Office CRI-TAC, in conjunction with CRI-TAC partners NSA, IACP, and FOP, will host a webinar on the mental health of officers during COVID-19. This webinar will offer realistic practices and tips for first responders and their families to help address and manage stressors during a pandemic. Speakers will include FOP National Director of Wellness Services Sherri Rowan, Dr. Kimberly Miller, and Metropolitan Nashville Police Manager David Kennington. To register for this webinar, please visit https://www.sheriffs.org/CRITAC-MentalHealth-Webinar.

Don’t Forget to Contribute to the COVID-19 Law Enforcement Impact Dashboard!

The National Police Foundation recently announced a real-time COVID-19 Law Enforcement Impact Dashboard to collect data and monitor workforce impacts, including the number of officers unable to work/placed in off-duty status due to possible or confirmed exposure, the number of officers that have been tested and diagnosed, and personal protective equipment (PPE) needs.

The NPF, IACP, and other CRI-TAC partners encourage law enforcement agencies to submit their data here: https://www.policefoundation.org/covid-19/. Data collected through the COVID-19 Law Enforcement Impact Dashboard will assist the field with understanding the scope and impact of COVID-19, as well as informing CRI-TAC tools and resources for the field.

New Offering Under CRI-TAC’s Menu of Technical Assistance

CRI-TAC is pleased to announce that its technical assistance offerings will now include the topic of “use of force.” In response to tremendous requests from the field, use of force will now join a number of other highly requested topics including community engagement, de-escalation, mass demonstration response, officer safety and wellness, and school safety. Technical assistance on use of force will include:

  • Offering training and awareness on best and promising practices, including offering peer-to-peer exchanges to share those practices
  • Reviewing and providing tailored guidance on an agency’s policies, procedures, and training
  • Training and guidance on how to conduct use of force investigations
  • Developing a calibrated use of force investigation process tailored to the type and size of the agency
  • Addressing how to handle complaints, as well as how to follow-up complaints to ensure investigations are safe, and accountable

Agencies can request more information by visiting CollaborativeReform.org or contacting TechnicalAssistance@usdoj.gov.

How Has COVID-19 Affected Crime?

Crime rates are declining in 2020 — thanks to COVID-19. Or at least that’s what we thought.

Violent crime and property crime rates did indeed fall during the first months of the pandemic, according to the FBI. The preliminary data show that rapes dropped 17.8% and murders fell 14.8% from a year earlier, during the first six months of the year. Non-violent thefts and larceny fell by slightly more, while violent robbery decreased 7.1%. However, the report does not categorically state that the period covered by the data coincides with COVID-19 quarantines and social distancing rules.

The data, however, show that arson cases have grown during this time. There has been a 52% rise in large cities and a 28% rise in the West. Overall, violent crime increased in the South by 2.5% compared to 2019 but fell in the Northeast, West, and the Midwest.

Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Police Department has a different perspective, however. It has witnessed an increase in gun violence and killings in the city during the pandemic. The increase comes despite a 5.6% overall drop in violent crime.

Initially, they, too, reported a decrease in crime amid stay-at-home orders. At the onset of stay-at-home orders, the Bay Area had fewer reported crimes in Los Angeles. But the summer proved violent as gun violence became more rampant. Compared to September 2019, L.A. is witnessing a 13.7% increase in homicides and an 8.2% increase in shootings.

City-wide burglaries dropped 10%, and property crime rates dropped by 9.3%. But retail theft jumped 67%, and vehicle thefts increased by 35%. Known for its gang-related violence, L.A. saw a 14.4% decrease in gang-related shootings and a 2% decrease in gang-related homicides.

COVID-19 has adversely impacted businesses, leading to economic despair. Communities are on edge. People are suffering from more stress and depression than before. These, in turn, have led to the rise of violent crimes. LAPD’s police chief announced that the department is viewing these anomalies as a top priority and have begun implementing changes to address it.

New York and Chicago

Similarly, in New York, gun violence surged during the summer. The number of shooting victims has jumped by 77.5%. July stats show shootings in NYC have increased by 66.8% year-over-year. Sadly, the Fourth of July weekend saw more than 500 were wounded by gun violence. Nationwide, there have been more than 22,000 deaths by gun violence and over 19,000 injuries.

Some research suggests that the increase in gun sales may have a direct correlation with these crimes. A whopping 64% more guns were sold in the U.S. between March and May. This is over 2 million more guns than were sold during the same months in previous years.

The numbers are equally disturbing in Chicago. A report by WLS-TV states that the 37% spike in murders in Chicago far outpaces the 14.8% average increase nationwide.

Further studies

Another report released by the University of Pennsylvania shows that crimes dropped an average of 23% across the 25 cities being monitored.

Highlights of the report:

Drug crimes saw the most dramatic drop — more than 63% compared to the past five years.
Property crime dropped 19%
Violent crime dipped 15%.

New crimes rearing their heads

The quarantine has created other criminal activities, the primary one being civil disobedience. This has manifested itself in the refusal to wear masks or stay at home despite state and city restrictions.

Online shopping has seen a boom, but so has package theft. Others include speeding and more cases related to the opioid epidemic. It is horrifying to see the increased assault on law enforcement officers and medical workers (usually through coughing, sneezing, or spitting).

Other crimes that have continued and perhaps increased during the pandemic include burglaries of commercial businesses left vacant, vehicle thefts, price gouging, and financial scams. Hate crimes are on the rise across the nation, especially against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Another disturbing effect of the pandemic has been a spike in domestic and family violence. The police making fewer rounds on the streets or lesser 911 responses have perhaps embol​​dened abusers.

By Bambi Majumdar | Mullltibriefs.com

About the Author

Bambi Majumdar has over 18 years of industry experience in journalism, PR, and marketing communications. She is passionate about bridging the gap between the audience and brands via meaningful content. She has contributed articles to The Economic Times, the leading financial daily of India, among others. She is also active on the board for several business organizations that focus on helping small business owners and women achieve more in their respective fields.