Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on Arrests in California – Public Policy Institute of California

At the onset of COVID-19, California’s criminal justice system was affected by shelter-in-place orders and other public health measures, along with law enforcement directives intended to minimize exposure to the virus. We found that pandemic arrest trends mirror mobility patterns, particularly early on. But other factors, such as a shift in policing strategies, also played a role.
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Here are the five “game changers” for policing this year.

Police 1 has an excellent article about the major issues that impacted Law Enforcement in 2021. See their list below (or you can see the list at their website.)

What do you think? Anything missing?

1. COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic dominated 2021 just as it did the previous year, and it probably doesn’t come as a shock that it tops this list. Tragically, it continues to be the #1 killer of law enforcement officers. According to ODMP, COVID-19 has taken the lives of 289 officers (as of December 2), vastly outnumbering the second and third-leading causes (57 to gunfire, 21 to automobile crashes). This year’s numbers also surpass the total number of COVID LODDs in all of 2020 (253).

The deadly threat also continued to disrupt other areas of the profession. Academy classes were canceled, training events were moved online and major conferences were postponed. But arguably the biggest disruption was over vaccines. Cities like New York and Chicago sparred with unions over mandates for city workers, leading to resignations and legal battles. As departments waited for staff to get inoculated, some, like Seattle PD, had to alter their already-strained staffing model to account for the absences.

Some leaders pushed back; in LA County, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he wouldn’t enforce the mandate, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy invited cops fired over mandates to join PDs in his state, and a sheriff in Washington pulled his SROs from schools over the issue.

No matter what happens come 2022, we are likely to see the ripple effects of this pandemic long after the case numbers dwindle. 


Upticks in certain types of crime – particularly murders – were being reported back in 2020 and that trend, while not as high a spike as was seen last year, has continued to be alarming in some areas in 2021. The New York Times reported the homicide rate, which had its biggest spike last year since record-keeping began in 1960, was still trending up in 2021. Portland (Oregon) broke a grim record for the most homicides in a single year. Austin (Texas) also reached an all-time high. Cities like Las Vegas and San Diego are also grappling with a homicide spike

“Let’s please untie the hands of our law enforcement officers,” Don Osborn, a relative of a victim slain in Portland, told the AP. “I believe if the proper tools were in place for our law enforcement officers, this wouldn’t even have happened.”

Further complicating the issue is PDs facing mounting staffing shortages that they have been struggling with for years. In Portland this year, the city saw fewer cops per person than at any other point in the past 30 years. In Austin and other cities, PDs have been forced to re-route non-emergency calls due to severe staffing woes


In the wake of the George Floyd protests last year, many cities looked at potential reform that would fundamentally change how police officers responded to certain calls or remove them from specific duties entirely – from traffic enforcement to non-violent incidents to “unarmed” response units. Among these, the reform policy that gained the most traction was changing how cities responded to mental health calls, either making them police-free or sending a police officer in tandem with a mental health professional to someone in crisis; the experiment has returned interesting results thus far.

Denver, which has had a form of the program since 2018, saw enough success that New York City modeled its efforts after them. The pilot program, called B-HEARD, reported early results this year. They found subjects accepted help in 95% of cases when mental health workers were involved, compared to 85% when police alone responded.

Other cities are following suit in growing numbers this year, with places like San Mateo (California), Chicago, and Garden Grove (California) launching similar programs. If the success of these pilots continues, it’s likely that more and more cities will adopt this approach. 


The George Floyd case sparked an important conversation about policing in the United States, and the Derek Chauvin verdict undoubtedly will strengthen calls for reform, for better or worse.

Duty to intercede and other self-policing training like early intervention and active bystandership are just some of the hot topics cities are exploring or already have implemented into police policy to develop a culture of accountability in law enforcement.

On the other hand, some reform efforts implemented over the last two years have seen results that have leaders rethinking the changes, which leads us to our last game changer of 2021…


This year, some communities started to think twice about the police reform they approved, particularly when it comes to the “defund” movement. In Oakland (California), Mayor Libby Schaaf said she’d push to reverse funding cuts to the police department and hire more officers as the city grappled with a crime spike.

It was a similar story in other cities. In Portland, officials approved millions in funds for law enforcement amid the city’s record shootings and homicides. In Minneapolis, the site of the George Floyd killing and epicenter for the ensuing summer of nationwide protests, voters shied away from the most radical calls for reform – voting against the removal of the Minneapolis Police Department. Meanwhile, in an effort to address the dwindling numbers of police officers in cities across the nation, the DOJ recently handed out $139 million in grant funding.

The U.S. Criminal Justice System in the Pandemic Era and Beyond: Taking Stock of Efforts to Maintain Safety and Justice Through the COVID-19 Pandemic and Prepare for Future Challenges | RAND

The Priority Criminal Justice Needs Initiative convened a set of workshops with justice practitioners to take stock of responses to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. They identified key challenges, system innovations, and lessons for the future.

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Impact Report: COVID-19 and Crime

Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities: November 2020 Update

This report updates previous research by the authors with additional crime data through the end of October 2020. It examines crime rates for ten offenses in 28 American cities during the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest over police violence. Not all cities reported data for each offense, and offense classifications varied somewhat across the cities.

Read the Report

Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities: November 2020 Update

This report updates previous research by the authors with additional crime data through the end of October 2020. It examines crime rates for ten offenses in 28 American cities during the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest over police violence. Not all cities reported data for each offense, and offense classifications varied somewhat across the cities.

See the report HERE

New Guidance to Protect People Behind Bars from COVID-19

Today, as part of its efforts to protect people most at risk of contracting COVID-19, the Vera Institute of Justice issued a guidance brief urging Attorney General Barr, governors, sheriffs, and corrections administrators to take immediate action to stem the explosion of COVID-19 cases in jails, prisons, and detention centers. Warned for weeks about the impending crisis, people behind bars are now facing the consequences of slow and inadequate government responses. Thousands of lives are at risk.