Editorial | Sunday, 23 August 2009
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Conduct unbecoming

The Malta Police Force has some serious explaining to do. Not only have three separate cases of alleged police brutality surfaced in the space of two weeks; but in written replies to a journalist’s questions, the Force’s Community and Media Relations Unit (CMRU) appears to have also been caught out in a lie.
Two weeks ago, this newspaper reported allegations of police brutality involving a young man from Rabat, who claims to have been violently beaten in the St Julian’s police station last March. The following week, MaltaToday was alerted to a second allegation of violent and aggressive behaviour – also at the St Julian’s police station, and involving the same police officer – this time targeting an 18-year-old woman; and in a separate case, our sister paper Illum has reported yet another allegation of violence involving the police.
Details of the second case, carried today on our front page, make for particularly unpleasant reading. The victim, whose apparent ‘crime’ was to allow a Chihuahua-sized dog onto the beach at St George’s Bay, claims to have been verbally abused by four policemen, dragged into a police car, then bodily thrown into a lock-up cell after having been roughly manhandled.
To compound matters, she also claims to have been ‘advised’ by a high-ranking police official not to report the incident to the Floriana headquarters, in what appears to have been an attempt to downplay the incident.
This deeply disquieting episode raises numerous questions about the role and responsibility of the Police Force in general. But apart from the use of verbal and physical violence – unacceptable under the best of circumstances, and even more so when one considers the age, gender and vulnerability of the victim – the incident also underscores a pattern of defensive behaviour that seems to repeat itself every time the police are accused of wrongdoing.
On the day the story was published, CMRU immediately rebutted the allegations by means of a registered letter, signed by WPC101 Roberta Grima, insisting that the police had never received a report about this incident, and that the matter was not being investigated by the Force’s Internal Affairs Unit.
This letter will be published in full as a right of reply in next Wednesday’s edition of MaltaToday.
However, the following day (Thursday), the victim not only re-confirmed her version of events with this newspaper, but also produced photographic evidence of the injuries she claims to have sustained. More significantly still, she insisted that contrary to the CMRU’s claims, her family did report the matter to the police: the incident was in fact referred to Police Superintendent Sharon Tanti, who in turn allegedly assured the victim that there was no need to make an official report at the Floriana HQ, as she herself would ‘look into’ the matter.
According to the victim, her family was later convinced not to press charges in return for a private apology.
The contradictions between this version and that supplied by the CMRU can only raise very serious questions regarding the credibility of the Police Force as a whole. On this occasion, the CMRU appears to have been more concerned with covering up this potentially explosive incident, than with fulfilling its vital function of informing the media (and consequently the general public) about matters which are of direct and urgent public concern.
Given the seriousness of the allegations, one must also comment that the reaction of the minister responsible for the Police Force, quoted in the article, is hardly what one would call satisfactory either.
Furthermore, the CMRU’s subsequent claim (i..e., that the incident is not being investigated by the Internal Affairs Unit) of itself raises an immediate question: why not? Why has the police not initiated an internal inquiry into what can only be described as a serious crime allegedly perpetrated by its own members?
Placed in the context of other statements issued by the same CMRU this week – for instance, the arrest and arraignment of two foreigners caught smoking a joint in separate incidents – it seems that while the Malta Police Force is very quick to take action against relatively harmless offenders, its enthusiasm for justice seems to dampen considerably when it comes to much more serious crimes committed by its own officers.
All in all, it is a pity that the shameful and brutish actions of a few execrable members should be allowed to tarnish the reputation of the entire Corps.

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