If I have a bad day at work, it's no big deal. A paucity of callers can make life as a talkback host difficult. Rude or teeth-achingly ignorant people can also ruin a night, but then people in many, many jobs are exposed to the worst in human nature. Sure, the anonymous texters can be foul and the rare, barely literate death threats can be momentarily alarming, but, for the most part, I sit in a warm, dry studio, doing something I enjoy and my Irishman knows I'll be home at 10 past 12, without fail, every night.

A bad day for a police officer is something else entirely.

What starts off as an ordinary working day can end very badly indeed. The siege in Napier is only the latest example of the risks our police officers are exposed to on a daily basis.

Len Snee, Grant Diver and Bruce Miller were making a routine inquiry at a house on Hospital Hill in Napier on Thursday morning when Jan Molenaar, for reasons known only to himself, snapped.

He opened fire on the unarmed men, killing Senior Constable Snee and critically injuring Grant Diver and Bruce Miller. An unnamed civilian is also in hospital with serious injuries after trying to wrestle the gun off Molenaar. And then the stand-off with the gunman began, with police unable to retrieve the body of their fallen mate for more than 24 hours as Molenaar kept them at bay with rifle fire.

Len Snee takes the number of police officers killed on duty to 29 - and there have been countless more seriously injured as a result of serving the New Zealand public. The men and women of the New Zealand Police know the risks they take when they choose to become officers, but it must be terribly hard for their families to accept those risks, too.

Police Minister Judith Collins spoke of what it meant to be a police wife when she visited the families of the Napier officers on Friday. She remembered saying goodbye to her husband when he was a detective and not knowing if she would ever see him again. It takes a special kind of person to be able to bear that strain, and it's no wonder that the police family is such a strong, tight-knit community.

Other jobs involve risk and danger - certainly the construction industry has had its fair share of fatal accidents over the past decade. But accidents are quite different from going to work and knowing there are people who want to do you harm, that there are people who want to kill you because of the job you do and the community you represent.

Police officers embody order and authority. They are a tangible reminder that we, as a society, have agreed to a certain code of conduct and way of behaving.

We accept that there are absolute wrongs and that we will be punished if we break the rules. The downside to that is that the officers become a symbol to the disturbed, anti-social violent outsiders of everything that they are not and everything that they will never have.

The uniform becomes a flashpoint for all the anger and rage bottled up inside a truly disturbed person.

Yet, every day, the men and women of the New Zealand Police willingly go to work to put their lives on the line for complete strangers.

They get precious little thanks for it. Whatever decisions they make, they are damned if they do and damned if they don't. But still, they keep the faith and believe in the rightness of the job they are doing.

We're lucky to have them. Thank you to all the members of the New Zealand Police Service and thank you, too, to their families for having the courage and forbearance to support them in doing the job they love.

*www.kerrewoodham.com