Before British rule, crime prevention was enforced by the threat of hard punishments. Such punishments remained on the statute books after 1800; however, owing to the frequent number of thefts, the British administration introduced the payment of rewards to those giving information leading to the prevention of a theft or to the arrest of the thieves. In an attempt to combat the surge of crime, the police kept an eye on shady characters, known in those days as the precettati di note, who were ordered to report their whereabouts to the police daily.
Crime statistics for 1848 reveal that the number of reported crimes for that year was 527. This number decreased to 364 in 1851 and to 190 in 1863. Moreover, 384 crimes were solved in 1848, while the number of unsolved crimes in 1851 was only 10.
Tancred Curmi, senior assistant superintendent of police, when giving evidence before a commission appointed to inquire into the workings of the police force in January 1903, made the first reference to a Criminal Investigation Branch. Curmi testified that the police had no uniformity in the investigation of crimes and in the manner of conducting cases in court.
In 1910, Colonel Edward Bowater McInnis had also made special reference to the establishment of a Detective and Alien Office composed of members of the force who had shown a special aptitude for this kind of work. McInnis had received instructions from the Colonial Secretary to come to Malta to enquire into the working of the police force.
Seven years later, Claude Duncan, the chief of police, again referred to the lack of an organised detective force. Finally, after approval had been granted by the secretary of state for the colonies, a general order published on July 16, 1917 established the Criminal Investigation Department, originally called The Detective Force. The staff of this force consisted in a police inspector, three sergeants and 15 constables.
Admission to the detective force was through selection from among candidates who offered themselves for that service or from men who had given proof of skill and powers of observation while on the beat or while engaged in other police duties.
Every detective was instructed to get to know members of the criminal classes, watch their movements and promptly communicate the necessary information to the detective inspector. The latter then had to communicate any reliable information received to other officers in charge of the police division.
The crime rate has increased. Moreover, some of the latest homicides suggest that criminals are getting smarter and more sophisticated. This proves that the CID is facing new challenges in the 21st century
In July 1919, Lieut. Col. Henry Bamford, CBE, was appointed commissioner of the Malta Police Force. Bamford made recommendations for improvements that ranged over the whole field of the organisation and disposition of the police force. He also changed the name ‘Detective Force’ to ‘Criminal Investigation Branch’.
By 1930, additional men were attached to the Criminal Investigation Branch, and in December 1930, Superintendent Joseph E. Axisa was put in charge. The following year the branch became known as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), and in October 1931, in a circular issued to members of the force, it was established that the CID had to be informed of crimes where it was believed that fingerprints might be found on the scene.
In March 1933, Axisa was appointed second deputy commissioner with the central authority of the CID. In 1934 the police information room, later known as the control room, was set up to receive and circulate crime information and other important messages to the districts.
During World War II, although the police force was seriously disrupted by the heavy duties imposed upon it, the CID continued with its task of preventing and detecting crime. Members of the department were also engaged in State security duties, as well as cases of unlawful possession of Crown property. But the most serious case the branch was involved in was that of Carmelo Borg Pisani, who had returned clandestinely to Malta from Italy on a spying mission.
The year 1947 was a tragic one for the CID and the police force. On the night of January 10, Inspector Edward Tonna and Constable Carmel Xuereb lost their lives from drowning in the course of their duty. Inspector Tonna, together with Sergeant Bonnici and constables J. Carbonaro, C. Xuereb and C. Micallef, were on night patrol and went to Mistra Bay to watch out for people attempting to smuggle goods from the shore to vessels known to be lying off the shore.
In 1948, Malta was shocked by the news of what was described as a classic robbery when the payroll of the naval dockyard was stolen in broad daylight.
On April 22, at about 10.30am, a Royal Navy truck carrying the sum of £126,740, the payroll of the dockyard employees, being driven along Paola Hill, Paola (where the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology is today), was accosted by hooded armed men who ordered the driver and the other men to get down and made off with the truck and the money. The truck was later found abandoned at Tal-Ħlas, near Żebbuġ, and a search for the money in the same area followed.
About £100,000 was retrieved, and a few days later five men were charged with the robbery, while another turned King’s evidence and testified against his colleagues. Four of the accused were sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment while the fifth one was acquitted.
When Dom Mintoff became prime minister in 1955, the bad state of the police organisation did not escape his attention and he invited W.A.Muller, CMG, to Malta to advise on improving the organisation and efficiency of the force. In his report, Muller said: “There appears to be extremely little crime, which reflects great credit on the police force, but if experience in other parts of the world is any indication, this may not always remain the case.”
Muller reported the CID as being unsatisfactory and that the records system was inadequate, while the superintendent in charge of the CID was inundated with immigration paperwork. Muller also emphasised the need for the CID to have more photographic equipment, although measures had already been taken to send a police officer to the UK for fingerprint and photography training.
Muller also recommended that police officers should attend courses that the Home Office in Britain had made available for overseas police, such as the junior and senior course at the Police College and the CID course by the Metropolitan Police at Hendon and by the West Riding of Yorkshire Police at Wakefield.
In 1968 there were 24 cases of theft of money and other property valued at more than £500 and only four cases were solved
In 1956, Vivian de Gray assumed command of the Malta Police Force and began implementing Muller’s recommendations. Officers began attending crime detection courses in the UK and a photographic laboratory was later set up at police headquarters. The police also made use of services offered by the government forensic laboratory. Radio communications in mobile units were introduced, and it seemed the CID was on a path of radical reorganisation.
In the 1960s, all detective inspectors had to attend a crime detection course in the UK, while in the following decade, sergeants and constables attended regular courses in ballistics, explosives, fingerprints and drug abuse in Hong Kong, Italy, Yugoslavia and various other countries.
According to the 1966 Police Annual Report, the total number of theft offences reported to the police was 121. In 1967 there was an increase of 16 theft crimes, and in 1968 such crimes amounted to 225.
In 1968 there were 24 cases of theft of money and other property valued at more than £500 and only four cases were solved.
Theft cases increased in the following years, and because of this rise in crime the Flying Squad was formed.
In 1972 the Malta Police joined the International Criminal Police Organisation – Interpol – and the following year the Security Branch was set up to take over part of the work carried out by the CID. Also in 1973, a Vice Squad under the charge of a superintendent was set up to deal mainly with drug abuse, which had formerly been the CID’s responsibility. In the 1960s drug abuse was not a problem in Malta, however, all that changed in the 1970s when certain drugs, such as amphetamines and marijuana, became more readily available.
In 1977 the need for a proper forensic laboratory was badly felt following a series of crimes where scientific evidence was needed. The technical services section was set up and a forensic laboratory was set up at police headquarters.
The police forensic laboratory has come a long way since 1977, and in December 2016 it was reported that forensic examinations comparison and DNA matching conducted by the police were recognised as “excellent” and in conformity with international standards.
During the past years the crime rate has increased and computer related crime (cyber crime) was added to the traditional criminal activity. Moreover, certain traits common to some of the latest homicides suggest that criminals are getting smarter and more sophisticated. This proves that the CID is facing new challenges in the 21st century.