Malta's police force has fewer sworn officers now than it did in 2014, with data released in parliament shedding light on the recruitment struggle local law enforcement faces.
The data, which stretches back to 1993, also reveals how the police force has lost more than 130 officers, or six per cent of all police, over the past five years.
As the number of sworn officers has dropped, the police force has engaged more civilian staff members. It currently engages more such staff than at any point since the year 2000.
The data, published on Tuesday in parliament by Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri, shows that the Malta Police Force has 2,152 sworn officers among its ranks, including 56 recruits who will officially be handed their badges on October 18.
Camilleri provided the figures in reply to a parliamentary question asked by Opposition MP Darren Carabott.
That means that there is, on average, one police officer for every 240 residents: the highest police-to-resident ratio recorded since 1993, when there was an officer for every 227 residents.
In 2014, when the police force had a record 2,155 sworn members, there was an officer for every 201 residents.
The numbers show that the number of police officers in Malta remained relatively unchanged throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, hovering between 1,700 and 1,800.
That changed in 2007, when the police added more than 80 sworn officers to its ranks in a single year.
Seven years later, in 2014, the police experienced another sudden recruitment boost, adding an even greater number of officers – more than 110 – in just one year.
Recruitment continued to outpace resignations and retirements in subsequent years and police numbers peaked in 2019, when there were 2,289 sworn officers on the force’s books.
But numbers have taken a downward turn since then, bringing police officer numbers back down to their 2014 level.
In 2021, Times of Malta reported that more police officers had retired from the force than had been recruited over the previous 10 years.
The problem is a well-acknowledged one within police and home affairs circles and is not purely a local one: police departments across the western world have been struggling to attract recruits for years.
Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri has however sought to downplay concerns about officers quitting the force before they reach retirement age.
To try and buck the negative recruitment trend, the police force has relaxed several entry criteria for recruits in recent years. Officers can now be aged up to 39 when they join the force (up from the previous 30), no height restrictions apply, a policy forbidding tattoos has been revised and there are plans to also alter facial hair restrictions.
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