How do police officers view their force?
The Malta Police Force, which marks its 198th anniversary on Thursday, has the duty to preserve public order and peace, prevent, detect and investigate offences, collect evidence and bring the offenders before the judicial authorities.
To do the job, there are about 1,800 serving members, including about 850 officers in regions, whose duties are generally related directly to community policing. The remaining personnel are posted in several sections of the force.
Precisely because of the sort of work they do and because society, rightly, demands a lot from them, police officers are often in the news. It is usually bad news because the good deeds police officers do – and they do quite a lot in the course of their everyday duties – are taken for granted, even by the media. Instances of brutality, abuse and outright criminal offences unfortunately put the whole force in a bad light and not only the errant officers.
Admittedly, the mission of policemen is difficult, tiring and often dangerous because their work brings them in contact with the many forms of the darker side of human nature. It demands sacrifice and requires them to spend many hours away from their homes and families.
The police do a lot of work. Suffice it to say that, last year, 564,188 calls were received on the emergency 112 line. Close to half, 44 per cent, were written off as consisting of hoax calls, wrong numbers and informing the police of incidents that were already reported.
Nonetheless, the figure remains impressive and indicates that people are becoming increasingly aware and appreciative of the facility. But it also means there is more and more pressure on the force.
Along the years, there have been suggestions on how the police force should plan, and be given the resources to do so, for the future not only to be able to effectively fight criminality that has become more daring and exploits modern technology and equipment but also as the country deepens and extends its international relations.
The improvement in the country’s education system and the advent of the Police Academy has meant better qualified and better prepared police officers. This, in turn, means today’s officers expect better conditions, as evidenced by the fact that calls for trade union representation have become stronger lately.
Two years from now, the force will be commemorating its 200th anniversary, making it one of the oldest police forces in Europe. Maybe the time is ripe, also in preparation for this anniversary, to conduct a holistic professional down-to-earth exercise among present and past members of the corps to see what they themselves have to say about performances and expectations.
Many members of the police force, of all times, witness high standards of discipline, self-sacrifice and genuine concern for the security of the people and law enforcement. Human weakness and failures, of course, exist among the police too. Yet, for the large majority of the police, their commitment is truly one inspired by the will to provide a good service to public order and the peace of mind of the community.
They deserve all the understanding and active support the nation could give them if it wants to help them and not to feel deterred from enthusiastically serving the cause of civic harmony and well-being. But this also depends on the force itself. Relations with the media, through which it can communicate with society swiftly and efficiently, remain the force’s Achilles heel. This demands resolute and urgent action.