Former police commissioner John Rizzo did not mince his words last Sunday when he said in no uncertain terms in an interview with our sister Sunday edition that police officers with a criminal history should not – under any circumstances – be eligible for recruitment, re-engagement or promotion.
Rizzo, the only police commissioner since 2013 who did not resign with a dark cloud of accusations of dereliction of duty hanging over them, instead having been transferred to the Civil Protection Department when he had wanted to arraign John Dalli, pointedly said: ‘How can people have trust in their police officers if there are concerns that they may have a criminal past? We used to not only check their conduct, but also pending cases, how they lived, even to whom they married.”
These standards now appear to have been thrown out the window, after the government revamped its policy to allow police officers to no longer require a history of clean conduct to be eligible for re-engagement or promotion.
Former police officers with a criminal record can apply for reinstatement in the police force, unless their crime is deemed ‘serious’, but what constitutes a serious crime remains undefined, and, according to the government, such instances are to be judged on a case by case basis.
The public’s trust rating in the police force has suffered multiple blows over recent years. We have recently had officers caught with cocaine in a drug raid, another illegally allowing people through immigration, an officer’s confidential personal file having been leaked straight from the police commissioner’s office to a newspaper, an inspector investigating a murder when he was in business, along with his family members, with the victim’s family, the Manuel Mallia-Ray Zammit debacle, the withdrawal of the policeman of the year award after it transpired that the recipient had a history of domestic violence…the list goes on and on and on.
And on top of all that is the successive failure or successive police commissioners to launch investigations into politically exposed people after the multiple revelations exposed by both the Panama Papers and the several anti-money laundering reports that have landed on their laps, when they not only had the right to launch own initiative investigations, but an actual duty to do so.
But instead of carrying out that sacrosanct public duty, some commissioners have preferred to resign while another recently tried to tell visiting European parliamentarians that the force had ‘limited competence’ to start investigations on their own steam.
Such lame explanations from the person who heads the country’s force of law and order are wholly unseemly for a national police force. It also does little to foster faith in the force, and allowing people with criminal histories to serve on the force amplifies that lack of faith.
After all, of all the components that comprise the good administration of the country, it is the police force that needs to engender the highest trust among the population. When there is no one else to turn to, the public must have faith that they can turn to the police, when politicians and public servants err, the country must turn to the police to investigate.
And that is why the situation at the force is all the more concerning. And it is concerning on the most fundamental level for, if you cannot trust the police to uphold the law within the very halls of the Floriana headquarters, who can you trust?
Original article found on The Malta Independent