The Malta Independent 9 December 2019, Monday

Editorial: Five Police Commissioners in three years - Police Force in shambles

Thursday, 28 April 2016, 10:06 Last update: about 5 years ago

With the departure of Police Commissioner Michael Cassar and with the appointment of his successor, the Police Force will have seen a total of no less than five commissioners in just over three years.

This newspaper last week broke the news that Cassar, citing health problems, was to leave the Force. This newspaper had also posited that Cassar was uncomfortable with the upcoming introduction of the role of a chief executive officer to the force, as well as with pressure from above to refrain from investigating politicians linked to offshore financial activities.  Both suggestions have been denied by the minister responsible for the force.

At any rate, and irrespective of the reasons behind his resignation, the fact remains that Cassar is the fourth commissioner to leave office, for one reason or another, since the last general election.

Before he was somewhat prematurely put out to pasture to head the Civil Protection Department, around a month after the March 2013 general election, former police commissioner John Rizzo had served 12 straight years at the force’s helm.

But since Mr Rizzo’s arguably strange and sudden removal from his position as the country’s top cop in April 2013 the country has had, in turn, the resignation of his successor Peter Paul Zammit in July 2014; the forced resignation of acting Commissioner Ray Zammit in December 2014 and now the resignation of Michael Cassar.

The circumstances around these resignations all merit their own analysis, but what is of immediate importance to note is that this game of musical chairs being played at the Floriana HQ shows there is something seriously wrong within the country’s force of law and order.

To the outsider, the message is clear that the Police Force is in a state of shambles.

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.

But from the Manuel Mallia debacle, which saw the removal of acting commissioner Ray Zammit, to a publically perceived failure of the police to investigate a number of politicians facing serious accusations, to police officers moonlighting with shady individuals and to allegations of politically-motivated transfers and promotions, there is a large and still-growing deficit of public trust in the country’s police force – a deficit that needs to be addressed even more quickly than the public fiscal deficit.

After all, the deficit that we are speaking of here undermines the very law and order of the country.

The government must act quickly to quash any such perception, and it must find in its replacement for the outgoing Commissioner Cassar a person who has both the staying power and the all-round respect to command the force and to steer it out of the troubled waters it is currently navigating.

This game of musical chairs at the Floriana HQ does not exactly reflect the steady hand, strong arm and sense of continuity required from a position of that calibre. 

Along such lines, the government would do well to seriously consider the reinstatement of John Rizzo as police commissioner – a post from which he has not technically resigned. Rizzo was merely asked to go and serve as the head of the CPD, where his multi-faceted talents are, in effect, surely being put to good use but are also being wasted.

The fact that the government cannot find a Police Commissioner with the staying power required of the position, after all, also calls the government’s own administration of the country into question.

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