Former and current ACT police say the territory is marred by a lack of officers, putting them and the community at risk.
Australian Federal Police Association president, Angela Smith, said the shortage meant officers were responding to potentially life-threatening incidents in inadequate numbers.
When police received reports of a gunshot heard in Bruce in mid-October, one sergeant and two constables on night shift were available to attend. The closest back up would have been in the "notoriously short" Gungahlin, or Canberra city police station, Ms Smith said.
"The ramifications are really wide. People can die," Ms Smith said.
An ACT Policing spokesman said resources were allocated to jobs using a "multi-level priority model". The Bruce incident was responded to appropriately given the information they had at the time, the spokesman said. Investigations into it were continuing.
In annual report hearings on Wednesday, ACT Deputy Chief Police Officer, Michael Chew, said there was "no minimum requirement" for team sizes on night shift at any given station.
But the basic team size was one sergeant and nine constables. Ideally, that would apply to all shifts across all stations in the ACT, Ms Smith said, but it was "utopian" to think that would happen.
"I've got one sergeant [in Belconnen] that says, 'For the first hour of the shift, I'm scrambling trying to fill two cars on the road'. There's two constables per car," Ms Smith said.
"They say it's almost impossible ... [their] first hour is wasted just trying to put a team together."
Mr Chew told the Legislative Assembly police staffing levels in the ACT were looked at holistically, taking into account officers on shift at all stations.
Woden police station sometimes had no sergeant and two constables on a shift, Ms Smith said.
Several other former and current ACT police told the Sunday Canberra Times there was a shortage of officers in the territory, despite annual reports showing an increase in 2018-19, compared with previous years.
The numbers accounted for people on paid leave.
Solicitor David Healey, who is also a former AFP officer, said there would be a lot of people on the books who were not operational because they had been struck down by mental health injuries.
He said - and the association agreed - the ACT's shortage meant police officers were often having to spend more time on general duties than they should before moving on to other areas of the AFP.
The general duties role involves being a first responder to countless traumatic incidents. The more time someone spent in general duties policing, the more likely or vulnerable they were to get a mental, or physical, injury, Mr Healey said.
"There has got to be a tipping point where they need to be rotated out and explore other areas of policing ... it's just a break," Mr Healey said.
"I'm not suggesting for any minute that they be rotated out and never go back.
"But certainly they should be ... given a breather, and have a different experience in other national areas so they can re-calibrate, get any assistance they might need mentally or physically, then come back in fresh."
The Productivity Commission's latest report on government services showed the ACT had the lowest number of policing staff for every 100,000 people of any Australian jurisdiction in 2017-18.
Numbers had continued to decline since 2015-16.
Mr Healey suggested four years on general duties was a sufficient timeframe for most police officers, although it would depend on their previous experience and mental and physical condition.
One ACT policing officer, who was receiving treatment for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder interstate, said he attempted to rotate out of general duties several times in his decade with the local force.
"I was never released because the numbers were too short," he said.
"[Moving to another area in the AFP] would have been a great experience for me ... before I got unwell."
The officer was receiving worker's compensation and money for treatment from Comcare. The federal workplace insurer initially rejected his claim because of his inability to recall events on paper; he exhausted nearly four months of his paid leave before the claim was accepted.
His AFP case manager did not help him lodge his claim, he said.
"[The AFP] probably would have picked up the issues I had much sooner if someone actually spoke to me.
"I wouldn't sleep for two or three days after some shifts because they were so intense."
Another officer said the Comcare claims process was like being asked to write neatly with a broken arm.
The association is calling on the AFP to have a stronger focus on early intervention for mental health injuries, and on the government to put more money towards it.
If they did so, officers could be kept in the operational pool in good health, and shortages would be stymied, Ms Smith said.
Mr Healey said officers often felt like they were not believed in the Comcare process, and the AFP should offer them more support throughout it.
A spokesman for Comcare said it determined claims for workers' compensation in accordance with the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988. It recognised the process could sometimes "become adversarial", and encouraged collaboration between people making claims, their employers, and treatment providers.
It had trialed and was continuing to progress alternative dispute resolutions, such as mediation.
The spokesman for ACT Policing said while officer numbers varied, last financial year saw its largest workforce "in recent times".
The ACT government had committed nearly $34 million to put on about 70 more policing staff on in the next four years. An ACT government spokesman said local stations were not regularly short staffed, and there was no set tenure for officers on general duties.
"In 2017-18 more than 100 release requests to roles outside of ACT Policing were granted," the spokesman said.
"Community satisfaction and confidence in ACT Policing remains high and above the national average."
The AFP and ACT Policing's approach to officers' health and wellbeing included three dedicated welfare officers in the territory, external support, and various policies and programs.
Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Mick Gentleman, said the ACT government would continue to work closely with policing to make sure they were adequately resourced.
"I'm committed to supporting and improving the mental health and wellbeing of our police officers," he said.
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