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As 63,000 Australian police officers mourn four of their own today, we want to say thank you.

Last night, four police officers – one straight out of the academy – lost their lives performing a routine job: pulling over a speeding driver.

This afternoon, we learned their names: Leading Senior Constable Lynette Taylor, Constable Glen Humphris, Senior Constable Kevin King and Constable Josh Prestney.

They were hit from behind by a semi-trailer, which was also travelling along the Melbourne freeway just after 5.30pm last night. Why it collided with them, we still don’t know.

But what we do know is today officers in blue from all around the country will be in a state of shock, as they digest the single deadliest incident in Victorian police history.

WATCH: Victorian Police Commissioner Graham Ashton speak about the tragedy on the Today show. Post continues after video.

Video by Nine

And yet today they’ll still be continuing their duties to protect and serve their communities – corralling angry residents who refuse to practice social distancing, and attending burglaries, stabbings, suicides, murders and domestic violence callouts. They’ll still be putting their own lives on the line with every job, to protect ours.

Being a police officer is not easy. It’s a hard, gruelling, and often thankless job that requires 12-hour around-the-clock shifts. They don’t get public holidays, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, any of it, off.

Our police have been spat on, abused, and ignored while trying to enforce social distancing rules. Image: Paul Kane/Getty.

The majority choose this career to contribute to society and to help people. They aren't in it for the speeding tickets and authority their detractors say they take pleasure in.

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Every day they witness scenes that the average person can't even begin to imagine. Traumatic and ugly scenes that we might, if we're unlucky, witness once or twice in our life. They do that every day.

With a mixture of tenacity, training and camaraderie from their colleagues, they deal with the broken, damaged, drug-addicted, abused, desperate and often cruellest people in our world.

Their job is like a war that never ends, and many, as a result, end up suffering from war-like struggles like post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2018, Beyond Blue found one in three officers experiences high psychological distress on the job, compared to one in eight amongst the general population. More than half had experienced a traumatic event that has deeply affected them. For some, last night's tragedy could very well be that.

COLLISION ACCIDENT KEW
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton and a colleague at the scene of the accident last night that killed four officers. Image: AAP/David Crosling.

As our police force today mourns four of their own, taken from their families while doing a routine task they themselves have done many times before, the least we can do is say thank you.

When we see the badges and boots on the streets, we often just see them as that - badges and boots. We take them for granted, because their uniforms don't give us any insights into their stories.

But they are mums and dads too, juggling their work and looking after their kids during COVID-19. They have parents and partners who put their heads on their pillow every night, worried and anxious about what night shift will bring for their loved one. They have pets and pastimes. They're planning weddings and funerals. They're dreaming about the days when they can go to the pub with their friends and out to dinner with their family when coronavirus is finally out of our lives.

They're human, something many in society often forget, and today they're hurting.

Across our country, 63,000 Australian police officers and their families will be feeling the weight of last night's tragedy.

And yet they'll still be out there, thanklessly doing their bit to keep us safe.

Today, more than ever, thank you.

Feature image: Getty/QLD police.

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