Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà has insisted in an interview that he gets 'absolutely no' interference from the Office of the Prime Minister.
He also reiterated a recent remark that he believes that, based on current evidence, every person involved in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has been caught and arraigned
Gafà lauded increased public confidence in the police, which, he said, could be seen from various surveys and victims of crime.
An increase in investigations related to domestic violence could be put down to victims trusting the police more and coming forward, he said.
“Trust and respect do not grow on trees but we need to work for them,” he added, citing the spread of community policing.
The police commissioner would not be drawn into commenting about specific high-profile cases saying a number of them are still subject to inquiries.
The following is the text of the interview
Midway through your mandate as police commissioner. How do you think it’s going?
Two years ago, I put forward a four-year plan which was mostly linked to the transformation of the police corps. After the initial phase, which focused on preparing the foundations, which was the most difficult part, it’s now time to start reaping the benefits. My aim was to bring the police force closer to the people and increase trust. I am determined to go through with this plan. We’ve done a lot, but a lot more remains to be done.
Do you think that trust in the police has improved?
Yes, according to surveys we conduct, trust is on the increase. Trust and respect do not grow on trees, but we need to work for them. Over the past years, we launched projects to improve trust. Community policing is rolled out in 75 per cent of villages across Malta and Gozo and the remainder will be covered by the end of next year. Naturally, this is something which will need to be strengthened.
The public is also seeing that the police improved in its investigations into domestic violence. In 2020, we set up a specific unit for such cases. While traditional crime is on the decrease, with theft being the lowest it’s been in the past 25 years, domestic violence cases are on the increase because victims are coming forward, because they trust us.
One of the biggest problems you have now is the exodus of some 300 to 400 police officers, leading to a brain drain. What are you doing to retain and attract more people?
In 1996, there was a heavy recruitment of officers so there was a large group who completed 25 years of service in 2021 and left the police force. This caused an imbalance between those who left and new recruits.
In line with the transformation strategy, we continued to recruit civilians who are now carrying out police duties such as scene-of-crime officers and crime analysts.
Before, joining the police was considered to be a job for life or a job where you’d apply if you did not have the qualifications or a job. This has changed and we are managing to attract qualified people. The police ended up having to compete with the private sector and even the public sector who are taking our trained individuals.
We are seeing a shift in criminality. The crimes being committed nowadays require a higher level of qualifications and specialisation such as computer crime or online fraud. Nowadays, we focus more on people’s soft skills rather than a requirement of being a six-footer.
There are people who tell me that the police are taking people to court even with half-baked investigations to let the judiciary decide. Do you think that’s true?
The truth is that the police get criticised all the time. There are some who say we make arraignments too quickly and others who complain that we took too long to investigate. Serious crimes, including financial crime, are prosecuted by the attorney general’s office so the AG’s office and the police work together on cases. At a certain point in time, the AG could decide that there’s enough evidence to prosecute or else ask the police to look for more evidence.
There are cases which are super complex. I used to investigate such crimes, so I understand the complexity of such investigations. Certain comments, including by members of the judiciary, who lambast the police over certain investigations, are hurtful, especially if a decision would have already been taken for the case to continue (prima facie). I believe that the judiciary should be trained better and more specialised.
Mistakes were made in charge sheets and people cleared it because of mistakes. What is being done to prevent them from happening again?
Such mistakes are unjustifiable. I understand that police officers are human beings and subject to mistakes, but I would not know how to explain such errors to family members. I have no words to justify such mistakes.
The case you’re referring to (a botched charge sheet which let a driver off the hook over a traffic accident in which a motorcyclist was killed)… the officer is no longer a member of the police force. I hope that these mistakes serve as a lesson for those who still service in the police force not to commit these mistakes again.
Do you suspect that the errors are not genuine?
God forbid this is the case. I have utmost faith in my people. When you see such mistakes, had there been any intention of the sort, I do not think they would have been so blatant.
There was a delay in the investigation on Iosif Galea and the international arrest warrant. How do you explain this?
On a point of principle, I will not comment on pending investigations or pending cases before the law courts, but I will answer you on this case. (Police are investigating why Galea was not arrested in Malta and was allowed to leave the country despite being subject to a European arrest warrant). I asked for an independent inquiry by an independent board which includes two retired members of the judiciary so that the truth emerges.
I already informed the board that I intended to publish the results because this is how we can continue improving.
The Daphne Caruana Galizia case. Do you think everyone who should have been charged was brought to justice?
As I said in a press conference recently, I believe that every person involved in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has been caught and arraigned and I still believe so, based on evidence we have so far.
Every person involved in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has been caught and arraigned and I still believe so, based on evidence we have so far
But those who are in jail are mentioning more people…
That is why I mentioned evidence. Information alone is not enough to stand in a court of law. The police are constantly receiving information. To go to court, you need evidence. The final decision on whether someone is arraigned is not the remit of the police but of the attorney general’s office.
On the Pilatus case. Do you know where (chairperson) Ali Sadr is located?
As I said, I will not comment on specific cases, but I will answer you on this too. We’ve heard a lot of comments that the police did nothing on this case but it’s not true. There are pending criminal proceedings against a bank and a person. I look forward to the time when the police are given the opportunity to explain in court the work that was carried out.
Do you think the Americans will cooperate to extradite him?
It’s not a question of what I believe. There are proceedings so we have to allow the course of justice.
What is the state of investigations of those customers who used Pilatus Bank to hide the money?
It is not prudent to comment on pending investigations or proceedings. The inquiry made a number of recommendations. I must say that when an inquiry is concluded, the police are not given direction on who to arraign or not, so there is more work that has to be done.
What is the state of the investigation on Accutor, involving Joseph Muscat?
The police worked on this case as part of a magisterial inquiry which is still pending.
Are you saying that the inquiries are keeping the police from continuing to investigate?
There are different kind of inquiries. We recently had a hit-and-run case and an inquiry was launched. The police, however, continued to investigate the case. If the police manage to collect enough evidence, it asks the inquiring magistrate to pass on the case file to the magistrate presiding over the case.
However, there are other inquiries which are much more complex and where foreign experts are appointed because of a lack of local expertise.
While an inquiry into a crime is straightforward, if it’s a murder all you have to do to is find the person who committed the crime; inquiring into financial crime is much more complex.
Experts must sift through thousands if not millions of documents and transactions to prove that an allegation of a crime was committed. In such cases, until the experts finish their work, the police cannot continue their investigations.
Did you agree with how the police acted with Joseph Muscat and the search they made at his house?
Any opinion I may have on a magisterial inquiry or a police operation is expressed in the respective for a.
But do you think it was heavy-handed?
As I said, it’s not a question of what I believe. Any comments are made in the right fora.
This week there was a protest outside the court instigated by Muscat. He is indirectly referring to the police who he claims are making a spectacle of (former Infrastructure Malta boss) Fredrick Azzopardi. Doesn’t it worry you that a former prime minister makes these kinds of statements?
I have full faith in my officers. On the other hand, I understand that people have the right to express their opinions as long as this is done with the parameters of the law.
Are you in touch with Prime Minister Robert Abela?
The police force Is not any different to any other force. The police is part of the state because it performs a crucial role in ensuring safety and national security. As police commissioner I do keep in contact to ensure that the force has the budget and resources to carry out its duties. On the other hand, the force is autonomous, and I can assure you that politicians respect this autonomy.
Was there ever any interference from his office?
According to the European Confederation of Police, the Maltese police are too close to the government. How do you react?
I met the Eurocop president and he never mentioned it. Had he done so I would have asked him to explain his statement and I would be in a better position to answer your question. What I can say is that I was the first commissioner who was appointed after a public and transparent process through the Public Service Commission. While the police force is part of the state, it is autonomous.
Did you agree with the AG’s decision to drop the murder charges against Darren Debono? Were you part of it?
As I explained, I will not comment on decisions taken by another entity.
But were you consulted?
That was a decision taken by another entity and I will not comment publicly.
The prosecutions are moving to the AG’s office. Is there a duplication of work?
The concept is a very good one that ensures a series of checks and balances. We’re still at the beginning of the process and it’s a learning curve. We are working together on certain cases, including financial crimes. Ultimately, some people might be seeing it as an extra burden but this scrutiny by an outside body helps the police and we hope that this will eventually lead to the police spending much less time in court so that they can focus on investigations.
The second part of this interview dealing with police motivation and the state of police stations will be published tomorrow.
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