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String of killings in the ACT stretches police resources

The ACT's police force has been stretched as three suspect deaths in as many weeks have triggered a string of major homicide investigations.

Police are currently investigating three alleged murders – which is already one more such inquiry  than was launched in 2014.

It is also above the ACT's rate of 2.8 murder investigations a year for the past decade.

The stabbing death of a woman, 28, in Gordon on Tuesday was the most recent incident. Tara Costigan, also 28, was killed in Calwell last month and Neal Keith Wilkinson, 61, died in Wanniassa on March 10. 

ACT Policing said the agency was adequately resourced to handle the increased workload.

But Australian Federal Police Association chief executive Dennis Gellatly said several concurrent homicide investigations would place pressure on police resources and could take a heavy personal toll on the officers involved.


Mr Gellatly said the ACT's police force could probably cope with one or two major investigations on top of their usual workload. 

The fresh cases would likely mean some other investigations which were not as time sensitive would need to be put on the backburner. 

"Major investigations tie up a lot of police resources so when you add the compounding impact of a lot of events all at once, it does have an impact.

"You'll get a lead investigator who is the case officer and they'll usually have a second-in-charge or an offsider, depending on the investigation, and you'll have a team of investigators.

"There'll be forensic staff and a range of specialists on board as well.

"If you add another investigation and another one you've got to replicate those teams."

The territory's police force includes a specialised homicide team which investigates current incidents as well as cold cases.

It also leverages the Australian Federal Police's forensic teams for crime scene investigations.

Mr Gellatly said the fact two people had already been charged separately with murder and were now before the courts in relations to the deaths of Ms Costigan and Mr Wilkinson, would create more pressure. 

"The race is on to collect together all the information for the brief of evidence to present to the Director of Public Prosecutions and to the courts."

Policing expert Michael Kennedy, from the University of Western Sydney College, said evidence in murder cases was heavily scrutinised in the courts and evidence needed to be thoroughly collated.

"Whenever there's a death, all the t's need to be crossed and the i's need to be dotted," Professor Kennedy said.

"So you'll need expert evidence from forensics and crime scene investigators, you'll need information from uniformed police who were first at the scene, family members, doctor's evidence, autopsy evidence.

"There's a whole range of evidence that you've got to co-ordinate on top of your ordinary work.

"And if there's been three [investigations], that stretches your resources pretty thin."

Mr Gellatly said major probes could eat up a lot of time and have a personal impact on police officers involved.

"It's very difficult because these things take precedence for police officers and they've got to be mindful to maintain a balance."

ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner John Hinchey said the service had seen a jump in the number of referrals, many who were family members, as a result of the recent deaths.

"That is something we are geared towards, our processes are designed to respond appropriately to these types of incidents.

"There's an immediate service for people who have suffered such a sudden and tragic loss and we provide information to help them manage their initial grief and trauma, and then to assist them long-term through the justice system."

Mr Hinchey said Ms Costigan's death in particular had prompted many women to seek support from domestic violence crisis services – a change that he welcomed.