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MALTATODAY 2 October 2022

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15 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 2 OCTOBER 2022 NEWS and "eliminated privacy in sensi- tive cases requiring urgent leave." The new setup appears to do nothing to tackle overtime abuse, however. "Overtime abuse hap- pened in the past, continues to happen and will continue to hap- pen, because if you have a friend in your district who is later trans- ferred to the staffing section, you can call in favours." Asked about this, police spokes- person Brandon Pisani said that the creation of the Staffing & Major Events Unit (SME) was intended to provide a more ef- fective, efficient, transparent, and fair system for assigning duties. "Through this centralised system attention is also being given for our officers to be detailed with decent working hours, ensur- ing adequate rest periods, even during massive back-to-back commitments such as the gener- al election and the visit by Pope Francis. Through this system, as already mentioned, payments for any performed extra/overtime duties are also being paid in a more expedient way." "All the mentioned measures were positively welcomed by our officers and praised by the Audi- tor General," Pisani said, quot- ing from the introduction to the Auditor General's 2020 report, which praised the introduction of new reforms "comprising of cen- tralisation of detail officers and process automation, the launch of an anti-corruption policy and anonymous reporting system, immediate payment to officers for extra duty, the set-up of an internal audit unit, as well as cap- ping of voluntary supplementary duties." That report, however, had al- so highlighted ineffective pro- cesses in relation to allowances, shortcomings in the upkeep of records and flagged an absence of systematic and periodic re- views of the allowances paid to employees by HR. The Auditor General had also noted errors in the records provided for audit purposes, "namely the daily duty rosters, the monthly returns, sick and vacation leave records, imply that adequate verifications were not carried out prior to the cer- tifications of the monthly returns by higher levels of authority." In explanatory comments, which were included in the 2020 report, the Malta Police Force had said that since mid-2020, it had deployed a team of officers to carry out random onsite visits and ensure that the workforce is deployed as stated in the de- tail sheet, "ensuring compliance where time and attendance are concerned and help identify in- stances of unofficial swapping which may occur." "Civilianisation strategy" aimed at replacing experienced officers lost to private sector Pisani said that various factors were causing a "brain drain" from the force, in particular the FCID. "Our officers within the Finan- cial Crime Investigations De- partment are specialised in their respective areas in line with to- day's challenges. Their particu- lar skills make them particularly attractive to other entities within this sector, particularly the pri- vate sector. This is also the real- ity in other sections, as the Police Force is not alien to the effect of economic growth and low unem- ployment, which brought new challenges for public and private organisations when recruiting people." Pisani said that a large group of officers who joined after a 1996 recruitment drive are also now completing their contractual 25 years of service and are choosing to retire. "It is envisaged that this trend would be reversed during the next three years. However, apart from constant yearly recruitment of new police officers, in line with our civilianisation strate- gy, during the last two years we registered an increase of 54 civil- ians working as scene-of-crime officers, HR officers, and finan- cial analysts within the FCID, amongst others." Staffing challenges are also faced by international law en- forcement agencies, Pisani said, adding that in spite of this "a more effective service, both in front-line policing, including crime prevention, and also in specialised investiga- tions such as financial crime and domestic abuse investigations" is being provided. "Also, in line with the MPF's five-year strategy, we placed greater emphasis on police visi- bility, mainly with the introduc- tion of the Community Policing, which now covers 75% of the is- land. By the end of 2023 all the Maltese islands will be covered by Community Policing as well. It must also be remarked that the first six months of this year have registered a 4% crime reduction when compared to the same pe- riod last year." "Work conditions have im- proved, will improve further" "Certainly, work conditions play a crucial role in an organisation," Pisani said. "Besides improving the ex- tra-duty rate, as a result of deci- sions taken over the past months, our officers are being paid for extra-duty and overtime du- ties worked within two months, contrary to the past years when officers were paid months and sometimes years after the ex- tra-duty. Also, we are working to ensure better working conditions for our officers, through the next collective agreement, as the pres- ent one will expire during 2023." Internal politics likened to abu- sive relationship One former inspector spoke of being disillusioned by the force's internal politics."It was some- thing I had always dreamed of, I wanted to do what's right and help people. But after you join you find that things are very dif- ferent to expectations and the thing that you loved turns into something you resent. I com- pare it to an abusive relationship, where you love someone and they keep giving you the worst, but you keep coming back." "Your job is basically to cover your arse in most sections," the ex-police inspector said. "I had people tell me 'look it's Sunday, don't invent work'." Rampant bullying, backstab- bing and political discrimination are other serious claims made by some of the officers spoken while researching this article. "If you're new, female, gay, hold different politics to the majority, these are all going to influence how you're treated on the job," one said. "If you lay on your back and spread your legs, you're going to get more respect than someone who doesn't. If you don't, you're described as aloof and lied about. That's the way it is, if you're easy you're going to get ahead." "Even in discussions about whether or not to arraign a sus- pect, if you stand your ground… you get described as insubordi- nate... Covering your arse be- comes the order of the day. It's like you're thrown in the middle of the sea and left to fend for yourself. When the shit hits the fan there is no debriefing to see what lessons are learned, only ac- cusations aimed at you." Struggling to reconcile their or- ders with their conscience In conversations with the former officers, a disconnect emerged between what police officers are taught at the acade- my and what actually happens in practice. This, they said, caused them internal turmoil on occa- sions where their experiences did not correspond with their train- ing or their conscience. "You're taught certain things and are trying to follow the law and your moral convictions to do your job right and then see your superiors going contrary to everything you had been taught." Some whistleblowers made serious allegations about the in- terrogation methods used dur- ing questioning, saying these in- cluded sleep deprivation, the use of constantly flickering lights, or leaving lights on all night. "Psy- chological bullying is sometimes used in interrogations," one for- mer officer told MaltaToday. "The law says you are permitted to use schemes and stratagems during interrogations, but they were using psychological bully- ing to get people to talk." Stud- ies show that such interrogation methods lead to false confessions, the officer added. "I guarantee to you that there are people in prison who did not do what they were accused of, but confessed just to bring their interrogation to an end," said an- other. "If you are accompanied by a lawyer, everything is done according to procedure and your human rights are respected, but if not, you have no guarantees." In an emailed reply to ques- tions about the issues highlight- ed by the whistleblowers, the Police Force's official spokes- person Brandon Pisani said that the Force did not employ these interrogation methods. "We are also not aware of any instances of 'enhanced interrogation tech- niques.' Investigations and in- terrogations are done within the established law and procedures, also subject to checks and bal- ances by the Independent Police Complaints Board," Pisani said. Political interference More worrying is the suggestion of political interference in certain high-profile investigations. This was the final straw for more than one of the former police officers who had decided to speak out. One described an incident in which an inspector had been summoned to a senior officer's office to discuss a politically sensitive case file, only to find a ministry official waiting in the office. The ministry official had then allegedly threatened the in- vestigator, with the full support of the senior police officer, if the inspector continued with the in- vestigation. "If this happened anywhere else in the world, senior police of- ficers would be forced to resign. Top level Metropolitan Police officials have had to resign over much less serious issues." Confronted with this allegation, the police denied any ministerial interference in the exercise of the force's duties or the use of illegal practices in interrogations. "[The Malta Police Force] con- ducts its investigations inde- pendently without any undue interference, whatsoever," the spokesman said. Buck stops with the govern- ment, officers say The individuals who reached out to this paper said they were doing so "in the hope that an article will ruffle some feathers and spur some movement" on the part of the "higher ups" and help the government and minis- try "understand that the picture isn't as rosy as the Commissioner is painting it." Most of the officers spoken to, however, stressed that the re- sponsibility for the demoralised state of the police force was not just Gafá's, but ultimately that of the government, which they ac- cuse of having failed to address the need for increased financial and human resources to be allo- cated to the police. "Problems like these need to be nipped in the bud. Everyone knows about the problems but everyone is afraid of addressing them," one officer said. "I don't feel the people trust the police anymore. There is respect, but not trust."

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