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Tribute to loyal police officers

The Times of Malta yesterday carried on its front page a photograph of PC Simon Schembri who was badly injured on Tuesday morning when he was run over by a motorist he had just waved down. It did so in solidarity with the police officer and his family but also to pay tribute to the many members of the force who, like him, are committed to protect society and enforce the law.

It is a heinous crime however you look at it and nothing can justify what has happened. Law enforcement agencies must act with an iron fist and the courts should show no leniency. The teenager accused of PC Schembri’s attempted murder must, of course, be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

If the police are society’s first line of defence, the courts are the people’s ultimate bulwark and this is certainly an occasion to prove it. The least that is expected is that the court, the prosecution and the defence cooperate to bring the case to a conclusion “in a reasonable time”. That will suit all parties.

However, PC Schembri and his colleagues, together with their families, deserve and expect more than justice within a reasonable time.

Cases of police officers being victims of violence are not rare. Luckily, most are not as serious as PC Schembri’s but they are still disconcerting. And, for crying out loud, let’s not try to attribute this violent behaviour towards the forces of law as a natural reaction to the criticism levelled at the Police Commissioner and the corps for failing to probe and act on serious allegations of corruption in the corridors of power.

The Malta Police Association was quick to condemn the attack on PC Schembri, noting it reflected a society that lacks discipline and respect towards authority. It repeated an appeal it has made over the years for the government to take a serious look at the situation facing the police and the dangers they face on a daily basis while doing their duty.

“We cannot guarantee the public a safe country if there is no discipline on the road. Everybody must shoulder this responsibility, from the highest authority right down to families in the home,” the association said.

Rhetoric and empty promises are useless as police officers injured in physical attacks suffer the pain, it concluded.

Regretfully, there will be more of the same: expressions of solidarity, promises of better conditions, undying support… Yet, in the ‘unwritten’ history of the police force one will find sad instances of officers losing life and limb and then practically having to rely on charity, sometimes even in the literal sense of the word.

The force itself might offer help as would the government and, perhaps, the Church and police associations. But what about the State itself? For example, why are police officers and their families still not covered by insurance? What sort of structured help is available to them and their families?

How many more officers must suffer PC Schembri’s fate before the State decides to put a robust safety net in place through specific legislation?

Will the government and the Opposition agree to present a joint Bill in this direction and push it through Parliament urgently, possibly even before the summer recess?

PC Schembri deserves it. As do all his committed colleagues in uniform.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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