In June of 2020, the Times disavowed an op-ed it had published in which Republican senator Tom Cotton had suggested that federal troops be used to break up violent George Floyd protests. In his column, Stephens argued that Cotton's op-ed "doesn't lie in its goodness or rightness" but in the Senator "being a leading spokesman for a major current of public opinion."
In the spring following the protests, Stephens had noted "anti-racism is a great simplifier- good and evil, black and white" and "effective policing requires that cops gain the trust of the communities they serve while recognizing that those communities are ill served when cops are afraid to do their jobs."
So Stephens is no johnnie-come-lately. Alas, his truth-telling became mangled when he appeared on Friday evening's Real Time. Prompted by Bill Maher's interview a moment earlier with former Minneapolis police chief Medario Arrondo, at 16:57 of the video below, the columnist can be seen contending "We also have to bear in mind particularly at moments like this that 99.5 per cent of police officers do their job honorably and courageously." Fortunately, Maher responded "first of all, let's just say you're pulling that number out of your ass."
Not content with being rebuked in the show itself, Stephen (at 9'45 below gave it another shot in the Overtime segment (B.S. as Stephens, B.M. as Maher, M.A. as "Rondo" Arradondo):
B.S.: Can I have one question?
B.M.: Very briefly.
B.S.: Rondo, what percentage of cops are good cops?
M.A.: Oh, the vast majority of the men and women who put on that uniform and serve their communities.
B.M.: O.K., but he said 99.5 on the show. It's just a number we don't have.
B.S. It's a figure of speech.
B.M.: It's not a figure of speech. That's a number.
B.S.: It was intended that way.
Of course, it's a number, however Stephens may have intended it. If it were only a figure of speech, did Stephens mean 99%? 90%? How about 65%? The latter number would have still represent a greater percentage of employees being "good" than in a lot of workplaces. There was no need to exaggerate. "Most police officers are dedicated" alone would have been a bold statement in mainstream media if made during the period when Tom Cotton wrote his op-ed.
More substantive was the assertion made by Stephens at 18:24 of the show itself, when he said
Every week a cop in America is shot and killed- every single week and this is a conversation we're not having but every police officer is very well aware that he's going on on a squad car and he's getting out taking a risk, and he's putting his life on the line and they deserve a lot more respect than they get.
Maher responded "they, first of all, get a lot of respect. A lot of people in this country are always bowing and scraping to them."
That's objectively accurate. At the time of the G.F. protests, far fewer people (especially in polite company) responded with the obvious "all the lives matter" but with "blue lives matter"- which is true. bit not a logical retort. Apples and oranges.
That's difficult to quantify, with facts and figures unavailable actually to prove who is right. Fortunately, that's not the case with the claim(s) that "every week, a cop in America is shot and killed- every single week."
In 2022, 231 law enforcement officers were killed in the "line of duty," 64 of them by gunfire. In 2021, 73 officers were "feloniously killed," an increase of 27 from the 48 killed in 2020. In 2017, there had been 46 "feloniously killed" and in 2012, 48.
Over the years, on average approximately one police officer a week is shot and killed, although it's undoubtedly not "every single week" because in some weeks there would be more than one fatality, in other weeks, none. It's difficult to determine if the greater number recently represents a pattern in the 22nd most dangerous job in the country. Even if it does, however, that alone does not indicate little, or declining, respect for police in a country of over 350 million people.
In some quarters, there is unjustified hostility toward the police. It was evident in the summer and early autumn of 2020, when virtually no one dared admit to it. (The field of skepticism should not have been left to the overwrought and bigoted Tucker Carlson.) There is still hostility, an anger which goes far beyond the 40, 50, 60, or even 70 law enforcement officers who will be killed by firearm this year. But it does no good to exaggerate wildly the number of "good" cops, nor to imagine that the public as a whole afford them no respect.