Superintending Paceville | Stephen Gatt

Is Paceville really a hub of antisocial activity? Superintendent Stephen Gatt, talks about whether anything is being done to make the popular nightlife area into a safer place.

Noise and light pollution in Paceville are some of the problems  that residents face.
Noise and light pollution in Paceville are some of the problems that residents face.

While nightlife may play a major social and economic role - it being a key aspect of youth recreation, and a major source of employment and tourism - it also brings with it a wide range of health-related and social problems.

Noise and light pollution are other aspects that significantly bother residents in the area. The development of a safe nightlife environment is a growing priority throughout Paceville and its surroundings, where authorities must manage not only the recreational habits of our own youth, but also those from other countries as international tourism increases.

"Effectively managing Paceville is critical both in protecting the health of young people and reducing the burdens that nightlife hubs like Paceville, where anti-social behaviour, due to alcohol abuse, can place on society," Superintendent Stephen Gatt says.

When asked about what he thought about the proposals drafted recently within the Social Affairs Committee, which was open for public consultation, and which will eventually be presented to Minister of Justice Chris Said, and hopefully implemented, Gatt says: "The draft report's aim is to tackle all the problems that arise in Paceville and its surrounding areas for a better and safer environment for both the patrons visiting the area and establishment owners, and last but not least, its residents.

"The major challenge of this draft report is not creating it, but implementing the measures for a safer community."

 "It is a very positive report and that, on reviewing certain proposals as a solution to the problems mentioned, one can see that there had been an oversight on certain issues that both residents and businessmen are facing on a daily basis.

"I admit that not everything is okay, and that we are prone to make mistakes, just like everybody else. There's always room for improvement.

"I was one of those present during the drafting of the report and had only words of praise."

Feasibility of police station in Paceville

Regarding the feasibility of a police station in Paceville, Gatt says: "I fully agree with a police station in Paceville, over and above the St Julian's one, but not just for the sake of having another station. It has to be an adequate one catering for Paceville's needs.

"One has to address the problems that normally ensue and how the police station can serve the right purpose. For example, if the main problem is alcohol-induced behaviour, there must be adequate cells according to standards to host the offenders.

"Identifying a number of effective practice models adopted to manage problems that arise within Paceville's setting is the best way to start off."

"These days, on arresting a person/s, we transfer the offender/s to the police station by means of the mobile police station and if the need arises, to the Floriana lock-up afterwards.

"But primarily, offenders are registered at the St Julian's police station, and depending on the situation, a decision is taken.

"If one is found to be under the heavy influence of alcohol, the best solution is that he will be placed under police surveillance at the station until he or she sobers up. It's safer for him and others."


Gatt also emphasises on the point that there is a need for more CCTVs in the area to act as a deterrent while getting what he states "a clearer view of things".

"The visible presence of security cameras, and/or signage warning of CCTV, is a great tool to help in the fight against crime."

Foreign-language students

"Summer brings lots of activities along with it. Foreign-language students increase, and places of entertainment are also frequented by locals. But Paceville is not only about bar and club owners' needs. It's about its residents too.

"When taken at face value, students tend to think Malta is a country where no regulations exist, opposed to their country and culture, and act without bearing in mind that regulations do exist in Malta too!

"Following other countries' cultures, Malta has been introduced to a system whereby activities start and finish later, as opposed to what Malta had been used to in the past. An interesting factor is that the presence of people, unknowingly, actually determines how Paceville should run, for instance.

"One must take into consideration that there are many families and hotels that host these students, especially in Paceville's surroundings, such as Swieqi and Pembroke, which are of close proximity, and which can have a negative affect on the lifestyle of residents."

There have been many reports in the media over the spillover of locals from Paceville to Swieqi, a cause for concern for residents who some view as nothing more than vandals.

"I wouldn't like to label these students as vandals. However, as I stated earlier, they simply think they can do whatever they please without respecting our laws or regulations," Gatt says.

Cooperation between police and civic community

When asked if there was enough cooperation between the police and local government, Gatt says: "We make regular contact with all three local councils, i.e. St Julian's (which Paceville forms part of), Pembroke and Swieqi. We have a good rapport so far with all the councils."

Police presence

Regarding the number of police officers stationed in Paceville, Gatt says that so many activities are held throughout Malta, especially during the summer months that require the presence of police officers. This leads to a lack of officers stationed in Paceville.

"There's a limit to how much one can stretch the Police Corp. It's never enough."


On the issue of bouncers, which he adamantly referred to as private guards, the Superintendent admits that at times they have taken the law into their hands. However, every time such guards used excessive force or exceeded the parameters of the law, immediate disciplinary action was and will keep being taken against the aggressors. "And this applies to patrons who act aggressively too."

Gatt adds that "all guards must abide by a set of regulations including undergoing security training during their course. They are requested to address difficult situations possibly without the use of excessive force".

"In fact, it's worth mentioning that 30 April is the deadline for those wishing to apply for a private guard license."

Ambulance/clinic proposal

On the proposal of an ambulance stationed in Paceville, or better still the proposal of Millenium Chapel hosting a clinic on its premises, Gatt says:

"Some time ago, we used to have the service of the St John's Ambulance Brigade on standby.

And on the health clinic proposal, he says: "I agree that a clinic should be in the vicinity so that in the event that something happens, one won't have to resort to calling an ambulance. Let's say it's a minor injury, it could be dealt with there and then, wasting less resources. What is the use of calling an ambulance when it could be used for a more serious incident elsewhere?"

In the same way, nightclub owners or party promoters organising events outside Paceville have to abide by a number of regulations, one of which is having an ambulance and first-aiders stationed outside the premises, Paceville's bar and club owners should be requested to pool in to have an ambulance stationed in Paceville too.

Today's youth

When asked if today's generation is associated with drug abuse, Gatt personally feels that today's youth seems to like experimenting with drugs more than past generations.

"The media bombards youths on certain issues, and in return youths do things to spite. Another thing is that today's youths seem to have more money in their pockets than past generations. As the saying goes, money is the root to all evil.

"It's interesting to note that the age bracket that lends itself into trouble in Paceville most is the 17-22 age group, for obvious reasons.

"Today's youth reasons out that if I am not bothering you, you don't have a right to stop me from doing certain things," he adds.

Could the liberalised drinking laws in Malta be the cause of alcohol abuse?

Gatt replies by saying that breathalyser tests to control alcohol abuse are still being performed on patrons.

"In the same way we perform regular raids on bars and clubs to ensure that patrons aren't smoking inside the establishments, and underage people aren't being served alcohol, we also perform regular breathalyser tests on patrons.

"Another aspect is that today's youth is less tolerant towards each other. If one nudges another by mistake, is there a need to retaliate and aggravate matters? Clubs, as stipulated in the law, stop playing loud music at 4 a.m., or rather are supposed to stop playing loud music by that time, and after that particular time, a handful of Paceville-goers seem to enjoy courting trouble."

Gentlemen's clubs

Gatt stops short of finishing his sentence when I question him about what we refer to as 'gentlemen's clubs', which fall under the same category as other bars and clubs.

"Whether you agree or not with clubs having women dancing is an issue on its own. If it's about morals, one cannot really enforce the law without having a set of guidelines implemented that will help police determine right from wrong. As things stand, we cannot really do much about the situation unless we find out that there's illegal activity, such as loitering and so on."

Recently, The Social Affairs Committee suggested that gentlemen's clubs in Paceville should be regulated to ensure that no laws are broken.

The committee states that the signage outside the clubs should consist of words only and should not include graphics which may be offensive for passers-by.

Reports of gentlemen's clubs allegedly offering patrons fully naked private dances by their employees against a fee of €70 also came to light after two journalists entered the clubs undercover and reported what they had encountered.

Residents' needs

But Paceville is not all about tackling alcohol or drug abuse. Residents have to live with noise and light pollution, and last but not least, a lack of parking.

"We patrol the area frequently, even during the day. But one cannot draw a line and stop people from parking in Paceville. Both employers and employees of the clubs and bars have a right to park, and anyone visiting the area for that matter who pays his car license annually!"

But don't you sympathise with the residents, I ask Gatt?

"I do sympathise with residents and I cannot rule out that something will be done in the foreseeable future to solve the parking problem.

"Currently, Paceville's system isn't the same as Valletta's - where most of it is an Only Residents Parking Zone."

Light pollution is another problem residents and tourists residing in nearby hotels face.

Gatt says that big screens, which are normally responsible for emitting such pollution, don't fall under the police's umbrella. Licenses for big screens are issued by MEPA.

"Meanwhile, on the noise level issue, we try our best to ensure that licencees respect noise level regulations."

Excessive force

There's been a number of incidents where police allegedly executed excessive force on patrons.

The St Julian's police are perceived by some as having a tendency to allegedly execute excessive force on patrons, following a number of reports that came to light.

 "This perception, or rather at times seen as a reality by the public, could be because since Paceville forms part of St Julian's, and where most activities are held, and where alcohol abuse takes place more than in any other town or village, we are more prone to dealing with patrons who won't be in a state of thinking straight, where the most arguments tend to flare up, which could lead police officers to using adequate force, not excessive, according to law.

"And despite this, I am not labeling Paceville as violent either. This is done to control the offender."

Gatt adds that "in the public eye, we are seen as using excessive force but in actual fact we would be adapting the necessary measures to control a situation which could easily spiral out of control.

"Our police officers have even intervened on sensing an argument about to ensue, to prevent it from growing. That is what we are primarily here for. Prevention is better than cure."

Concluding, Gatt says that it was highly important for all those involved in making Paceville better, to keep meeting on a regular basis and discuss how one can best improve Paceville. "There also needs to be localised laws and not so many laws and licenses under different umbrellas. It's unfair that the police have to enforce any law enacted without a proper study beforehand on its consequences and effects, and the police having their hands tied and referring at times certain cases to the number of authorities that exist without having to deal with the problem