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2020 in review: The year in 5 minutes

Looking back at the events impacting public safety this year


Members of the New York Police Department leave a service honoring the 46 members of the NYPD who have died due to COVID-19 related illness, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

This is ace reporter Joel Shults with the latest news from Mars. Or whatever universe we warped in to in 2020. I almost wrote that the year couldn’t be more bizarre, but we’ve all learned not to say such things. Kind of like the rookie saying it looks like it’s going to be a quiet night.

JANUARY began with a handful of active shooter events that garnered national news. Two of the incidents happened in Texas, one at a school near Houston in which one student died. The other was in a bar in San Antonio killing two. Two other bar patrons were killed in a Kansas City area celebration over the Chief’s win for entry into the Super Bowl. In Colorado, a party at an apartment complex in a Denver suburb was interrupted by a gunman who wounded five people.

Lurking in a less-noticed headline dated January 21 is the news of the first appearance of the coronavirus.

Police1 resource: Coronavirus special coverage

FEBRUARY generated national headlines with four active shooter events. A gunman in California aboard a Greyhound bus killed one and injured five before being overcome by passengers. A shooting in a residence hall at Texas A&M killed two women and injured an infant. Three people were wounded at an Atlanta restaurant on Valentine’s day. Before the month was over, a disgruntled worker killed five people at a Milwaukee beer distributor.

In what foreshadowed a hard year ahead, the first American death attributed to the coronavirus occurred.

Police1 resource: Improving active shooter response

MARCH is supposed to blow in the warm hopes of Spring. Not this year. COVID-19 leaped to the top of the headlines and still dominates the news. A shooting in Baltimore killed a 13-year-old and injured five teens. Amazon became a lifeline during COVID lockdowns, and schools everywhere began shutting down and moved to remote learning modes. Coronavirus updates were ubiquitous.

Police1 resource: Get the most out of a virtual event

APRIL saw six people shot at a Bakersfield, California house party. The scandal of the headline was not the violence but that there was a party during a statewide COVID lockdown! Virus updates centered on federal relief efforts, hazard pay for first responders, rising numbers and protective equipment shortages. If current events watchers expected things to slow down because of the virus, the month of May shocked a nation already wracked by fear.

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MAY caught a glimpse of the coming murder hornets invasion. Meanwhile, in Ft. Worth, 600 people found some reason to celebrate with a fireworks exhibition until a suspect shot and injured five persons in the crowd. In Louisiana, the funeral for a murder victim was interrupted by gunfire among the 800 attenders that wounded 13. On May 25, George Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis, generating protests and violence across the country resulting in millions of dollars in damage and over two dozen deaths.

Police1 resource: George Floyd protests special coverage

JUNE saw former Vice-President Joe Biden become the official Democratic presidential candidate. A San Antonio bar shooting injured eight people. Protests broke out across the country ignited by the death of George Floyd, competing with COVID for headlines.

Police1 resource: How PDs can improve crowd control training

JULY continued with ripples from COVID including its impact on major league sports, a national coin shortage, and increased hospitalizations. Dramatic increases in violent crime struck several cities at the same time calls for defunding the police were also on the rise.

Police1 resource: How to address calls for police defunding

AUGUST saw more reports of violence in cities across the country in addition to protest violence. Former California Attorney General, Senator Kamala Harris, is chosen as Biden’s running mate, creating increased concern among law enforcement as she applauded efforts at defunding police. Coronavirus remained a top story as tension between President Trump and his chief COVID expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci rises over the response to the virus.

Police1 resource: What does Kamala Harris think about police reform?

SEPTEMBER shifted the balance of the Supreme Court as conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett is nominated to replace Justice Ginsburg who succumbed to a long battle with cancer. One person died in a Jacksonville, Florida shooting at an Amazon facility. A grand jury announced that the shooting of Breonna Taylor was justified, followed by widespread protests and a state of emergency declared in Louisville, KY.

Police1 resource: Interpreting the Breonna Taylor Grand Jury findings

OCTOBER continued with more protests and COVID headlines. President Trump announced that he had tested positive for the virus. An officer-involved shooting resulted in the death of a knife-wielding man in Philadelphia whose family said was experiencing a mental health crisis and inevitable civil unrest in its wake. Record early voting portended an unprecedented turnout for the Presidential election.

Police1 resource: A primer for police response to persons in mental health crisis

NOVEMBER election results showed Biden as the next president despite vigorous allegations of voter fraud. A delay in the presidential transition process was finally broken as President Trump’s legal challenges to voting outcomes across the country met with little success. A shooting in a bar in North Carolina between off-duty officers and arguing patrons resulted in injuries to two officers and four bar patrons. Riots erupted again in Portland, the scene of unceasing protests and violent outbreaks since the Floyd incident.

Police1 resource: Will a Biden presidency breathe new life into community policing?

DECEMBER is still unfolding as of this writing. Putting on my fortune telling hat, I predict more civil unrest, more calls for police reform, more COVID controversy, more political wrangling and increasing violent crime stats reaching the headlines. In other words, more of the same.

Any guesses for 2021? Email your predictions to

NEXT: How will police grants be impacted in 2021?

Joel Shults retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30-year career in uniformed law enforcement and criminal justice education, Joel served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the U.S. Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over 50 police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards, including the Colorado POST curriculum committee, as a subject matter expert.