Tattoo policy, low starting salary and lack of incentives to stay are among factors that may be pushing people away from the force

More police officers have retired than new recruits have joined the force over the last decade. Between 2010 and June 2021, some 1,205 officers retired from duty, data provided by the police show.

Between 2010 and 2020, 998 recruits were appointed as police constables, and so far in 2021, 65 more have been appointed.

Another 41 candidates are doing induction training within the Academy for Disciplined Forces, a spokesman for the Malta Police Force said.

“Since 2020, the MPF has increased the age limit from 30 to 39 years and removed height restrictions for entry as of November 2020. The force carries out extensive promotional campaigns, including on social media, billboards and bus shelters,” the spokesperson said.

The MPF also employs 136 as reserve police constables and a further 36 were engaged on August 2, following a two-week induction course at the academy.

Why are people not joining the police?

The ban on officers having visible tattoos or sporting facial hair may be contributing to hesitation among potential recruits, according to the general secretary of the Malta Police Association, Marlon Hili.

“There could be several reasons impacting recruitment numbers, but from the feedback we receive, many take issue with the tattoo problem,” he said.

While tattoos on police officers are not outright banned, they must be fully covered by the uniform, excluding potential applicants with visible tattoos.

The last recruitment drive yielded 38 applicants, Hili said.

“While every new officer is welcome, the growing work of the force into new branches and districts, coupled with the work it is putting in to move with the times, makes 38 a drop in the ocean,” he said.

“Before, tattoos were perhaps considered to be somewhat taboo but nowadays it seems like most people have one. I know that on an administrative level the issue is being discussed but I don’t know at what stage those discussions are.”

A low starting salary might also work to push new recruits away, he added.

“On average, the starting salary of a police constable is roughly €1,200 a month, before tax and national insurance.

“This is not really a police admin issue, as police are paid like civil servants and follow that scale, so it’s an issue the government would need to tackle,” he noted.

“I don’t think this is a wage that reflects the work and commitment that is required of a person in order to be a police officer and succeed in the police force.”

What can be done to keep officers in the force?

While the problem of recruitment is not unique to Malta, Hili feels that incentives to keep officers in the job longer would encourage people not to retire after they’ve earned their pension through 25 years of service.

“When we meet with other police officers at EU level, the disciplinary forces in much larger countries are facing this issue, so a lack of recruits is not unique to us,” he said.

“That being said, during the pandemic, when a number of people, unfortunately, lost their jobs, we believed more people might be inclined to apply.”

As for the reasons people are choosing to resign instead of staying on as police officers, “we think there is some discrimination going on with regards to receiving a pension after 25 years of service. This does not apply if one chooses not to retire upon completing all 25 years,” he said.

“Policing is a job like any other, but one of the benefits can be the ability to start over after 25 years with the support of your pension.

“As it stands there is no incentive to stay on in the force after completing your duty, as you are essentially giving up your pension. I think revising this issue could be part of the solution to incentivise officers to stay as long as possible.”

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