And while viewers of crime dramas know they are watching fiction, public attitudes towards the police sometimes suggest a blurring of the lines.
An officer’s job can involve going towards danger when the rest of us would flee; dealing with the most traumatic of human experiences, like murder and rape, and sickening crimes like child pornography; and forming a human barrier between angry crowds of rival protesters or football fans. They may also need to act as grief counsellors or the most caring of social workers for vulnerable people in distress.
Yet, despite the nature of the job we ask them to do, they seem more likely to be the subject of public criticism from armchair chief constables – sometimes for being too heavy-handed, other times for not being heavy-handed enough – than the recipients of praise.
There will, of course, be times when criticisms must be made, but this should be from a starting point of profound respect for fellow citizens who do an extremely difficult job.
And that respect should be embodied in a public demand for politicians to ensure Police Scotland is adequately funded to ensure reasonable working conditions for its officers and for their mental health to be protected from the pressures that, to a degree, will always come with the job.
In recent years, we have collectively woken up to the importance of safeguarding mental health, particularly in the Armed Forces, but also in teaching, medicine and other careers.
But a new study which found nearly 35 per cent of police officers in Scotland have reported for duty when mentally unwell, more than 53 per cent of officers had done so when physically unwell, and 38 per cent were suffering from high levels of stress, suggests we have not been doing nearly enough for workers who are very much at the sharp end of society at its worst.
Remember, these are the people – the human beings – we are asking to make split-second decisions in dangerous, sometimes life-threatening, circumstances.
Apart from being tough, the typical TV cop is often somewhat damaged. In real life, we have to do better for the real people who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe.