Who shall guard the guardians?
Strategically policing the police in a democratic society
Written by Dr.Herman Mula
In the light of events unfolding in the past days in our islands, one cannot but bring up such a question. The first bold statement towards anyone submitting their views and reports on all media fronts is to respect the fundamental human right of due process, particularly the presumption of innocence which reigns supreme up until any final decision in our Courts of Law is reached. Nonetheless, this is the right time to flag some proactive and reactive approaches the Malta Police Force can adopt in order to safeguard the integrity, professionality and discipline within this prestigious law enforcement department.
The Council of Europe Codes of conduct for Public Officials makes a bold statement with the following:
“Public officials must not allow their private interests to interfere with their public position, and it is their responsibility to avoid such conflicts of interests.They must never take advantage of their position for their private interest or that of their families, close relatives, friends, and persons or organizations with whom they have or have had a relation.” (Council of Europe, 2000, Art 8)
But how can the system effectively prevent such happenings? And how can the system react in the best way to such occurrences?
The proposed answer to these questions can be achieved by a strategic implementation of various approaches:
- Appoint a contact person and establish a reporting mechanism;
- Conduct employee anti-bribery awareness campaigns;
- Reviewing the job description of the Police Inspector and other ranks;
- Applying the rotation rule to areas vulnerable to corruption and abuse;
- Granting adequate salaries and work conditions.
Contact person and reporting mechanism:
Having a contact person for corruption prevention appointed in the organization who shall serve by:
- Being the port of call for the organization staff and management without having to go through official channels;
- Advising the police management;
- Keeping employees informed by means of seminars and presentations;
- Assisting with training;
- Gathering intelligence about any indications of corruption;
- Helping in keeping the public informed about penalties under the public service law and criminal law.
A safe reporting mechanism, guaranteeing anonymity and easily accessible would be a simple way of getting information from employees and the general public about any suspicious activity by any person.
Structured and organised anti-corruption awareness training is key. For anti-bribery training to be efficient, employees need to be able to engage with the material being delivered in a way that they are motivated towards the same vision of public service integrity.
The role of the Police Inspector:
A principal role who has the duty to detect and prevent any form of abuse or corruption in the system is the police inspector. Nonetheless, in Malta the police inspector needs to wear three different hats with every one of them having a full workload. Maltese inspectors serve as investigators, mid-managers, prosecutors, and in some posts such as Police Districts, they also take care of crowd control management during events. This overload of duties undoubtedly puts the inspector in a difficult position to deliver in the most efficient way. This can be addressed by establishing an integrity role described above.
Applying the rotation rule to areas vulnerable to corruption:
This method is recognized by the German Federal Ministry of Interior in their report “Preventing Corruption in the Federal Administration” (2015 P 33). In this Ministry, no one working in an area especially vulnerable to corruption is assigned to the same or similar area for more than 5 years.
The protection of the Whistleblower Act (Chapt. 577 of the Laws of Malta) in article 2 (3) states that the act does not apply to employees in disciplined forces, members of the Security Service and employees in foreign, consular or diplomatic service of the Government. This Act, which was brought into force by ACT VIII of 2013 should possibly be amended in a way to protect these employees.
Centralizing payments from external entities:
Establishing a centralized unit taking care of all the deployment of extra duty services requested by external entities and collecting the respective payments should be considered.
The relationship between salary & Corruption:
A study conducted in 2015 on Ghanaian Police by Jeremy D. Foltz (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Kweku A. Opoku-Agyemang (University of California) suggests that fighting corruption cannot be done by salary policies alone. Investigations of corruption may need to consider salary raises with potentially complimentary factors such as enforcement as well as more cohesive institutions as part and parcel of the same equation. (J Foltz & K Agyemang, 2015, P 25).
In conclusion, reference is to be made to the eventual prosecution of Police officers with bribery or other offences in our Courts. The Venice Commission Report on Malta (December 2018 P 14) suggested that not only should the prosecution of criminal cases in the inferior Courts be passed on to a newly set up prosecuting unit, but merge such a unit within the existing prosecuting department of the Attorney General’s office. This approach would grant the peace of mind of having prosecuting lawyers who are not serving police officers, and are not affected by collegial bias or the appearance of such bias during the indictment of police officers.