The union representing ACT police officers has hit out at the territory government's failure to find funding for more officers on the front line, after the government announced millions for more ambulance officers.
Australian Federal Police Association president Angela Smith says a five-year-long decline in police numbers and concurrent fall in funding for policing in the territory has left officers feeling exhausted, while also feeling they cannot take a break.
Her comments follow the release of a Productivity Commission report revealing the ACT now has the lowest proportion of operational police officers by population of any jurisdiction in the country.
Former ACT Chief Police Officer Justine Saunders last year cited the lack of staff as having led to "significant fatigue issues" in the workforce, writing in emails to national colleagues that existing recruitment was failing to backfill positions.
Ms Saunders also asked her national colleagues in January last year for an extra three recruitment rounds to boost numbers.
The federal police announced a new recruitment drive for ACT Policing and the territory branch renewed calls for civilian volunteers earlier this week.
Ms Smith said she had continued to urge Police Minister Mick Gentleman to arrest the decline, but no extra funds had been forthcoming.
She said she found the latest figures particularly galling in light of Mr Gentleman's announcement earlier this year of a $15 million funding injection to hire more ambulance officers to service higher demand due to population growth.
Mr Gentleman has claimed population growth is not a factor that warrants increasing police numbers, instead arguing the territory's small geographical area and comparatively low crime rates means more are not needed.
Ms Smith said such arguments did not stand up against the reality members faced in extra shifts and huge amounts of overtime, and that despite lower crime rates the growing population meant police were dealing with ever-more-complex cases.
The complexity of cases and the rising numbers of domestic violence cases were also cited by then Director of Public Prosecutions Jon White repeatedly in recent years; arguments which ultimately led to a funding boost for prosecutors last year.
But in last year's budget, funds for a $4.6 million initiative to support "better careers" for ACT police officers, originally meant to begin in 2017-18, were instead delayed until at least 2020-21.
The current budget forecasts the government will spend $171 million this year on police services, rising to $173 million by 2020-21, before falling slightly to $172 million in 2021-22.
Mr Gentleman did not respond directly to questions regarding the declining budget or changes to the "better careers" budget.
He did say he would speak to Chief Police Officer Ray Johnson as the government prepared the budget, though there was no guarantee of any change to the current situation.
Ms Smith said union members were raising the issues regularly, but they were often not raising them with their senior officers for fear of missing out on promotions.
"They’re so frustrated, all the coppers know the population is growing, yet our numbers are going backwards and now they’re almost at a point at which they feel like they're banging their head against a brick wall," she said.
"They're disillusioned and that adds to their stress levels, a feeling that 'no one seems to care what I do'."
Mr Gentleman said he would continue to work with Mr Johnson on "the best policing service model and resourcing to meet Canberra’s needs into the future".