Mary Muscat is a lawyer who spent 13 years as an inspector with the Malta police force before moving to academia. She lectures at the University of Malta and the Academy for the Disciplined Forces.
The arrest of at least 40 police officers and the quasi-closure of a whole police unit has been hitherto an unprecedented development in police history.
We’ve had corrupt chiefs of police, and other single individuals, who had to resign for their illegal behaviour. But this latest development has jolted not only the institution’s backbone, but even its historic timeline, for two main reasons.
The first is the mafia-style racket, which includes extortion and silencing, indicating a whole barrel of rotten apples that takes time, space and very specific circumstances to create. It is the worst scenario of the ‘us vs them’ police subcultural script to the point where ‘us’ has become ‘them’. Criminals in uniform. It’s not what the police are about. It’s tough even writing about this; just imagine how the decent, honest cop who holds justice as a core value is dealing with this betrayal.
The police as an institution never exists on its own: if the ‘field’ is rotten, then have a really good look at the ‘habitus’ – governance outside of police headquarters. The racket is truly a throwback to the Lorry Sant days of violating the sacred, whether it’s the Curia and the courts physically and metaphorically, just as much as targeting and violating citizens.
Even worse, according to some media sources, the racket also utilised sexual predation to silence, extort or whatever. If anyone ever wondered why the police cannot understand a domestic violence’s victim’s plight, now you know why: violence, in its myriad of forms, is used to dominate and bully each other even within the police institution.
And you have to grin and bear it because whistleblowing is anthropologically criminal: it breaks all codes of silence. It’s loyalty at all costs and omertà, another two mafia red flags.
Secondly, party politics and policing: they do not mix, and there’s never a time as this where it is so evident. It’s already tough attending academic conferences abroad on policing and having to explain to colleagues why there were six chiefs in seven years.
The problem is answering the obvious question, ‘so what’s with the quick succession? You’re such a small place, do you even have as many
chiefs available, seriously?’ ‘Dreaded politics. Red investigating Red. Doesn’t happen easily, it takes some real police guts as no one wants to create a Red Inferno and have it on your CV. It’s much easier to run. Coraggio, fuggiamo. In the past we’ve had Blue investigating Blue, and Blue investigating Red. Technically, Red investigating Blue should come easy now, but apparently not. Politics pollutes policing, full stop.’
Il-kbir għadu ġej, just wait for the racket proceedings to start and a seriously grim picture to emerge, if they’re ever held in public.
With the benefit of hindsight, the public is a tad wiser now about the actual timing of the last commissioner’s resignation. It’s one thing for a chief to leave the building, it’s another to leave a crime scene inside that same building. Il-kbir għadu ġej, just wait for the racket proceedings to start and a seriously grim picture to emerge, if they’re ever held in public. To the good men and women in blue, brace yourselves for some pillorying, through no fault of yours.
I cannot say it in any other way, Prime Minister: you cannot have ‘politics dirige nos’ in policing (or Home Affairs), even in the most minor role whatever that is within the police hierarchy and even outside, in related agencies such as the academy. If libel laws have massacred human rights, political appointments have made a bloodbath of policing.
Nice legacy you have inherited, Robert Abela. If your public ratings have sky-rocketed, try gauging public opinion on the police institution and juxtaposing your results with that.
Will Abela’s bobby turn out to be just another political appointment, in spite of the elaborate selection systems proposed on both sides of the House? How are merit and police leadership going to be measured after all – that is the real question, not who’s interviewing or selecting whom, by whose authority and how is it going to make us look ‘abroad’.
Venice got flooded recently, by the way, because the energy was totally focused on debating the floodgates. You’re all missing the point. And how will the new chief be such a role model as to restore public confidence, apart from justice? But that’s another opinion piece.
On a positive note, there’s certainly a rupture in the police historic timeline that can lead to a new emergence of policing, if done properly. It’s therefore time to stop pledging kontinwità (continuity), Prime Minister; it doesn’t work.