Police superintendent insists Paceville no more violent than other places in Malta

‘There are brawls and clashes anywhere where there is entertainment, especially considering that the night economy goes on till 4am and 5am’

Superintendent Melvyn Camilleri has played down the notion that Paceville is becoming a more violent space over the years despite the not uncommon factor of brawls at night.

Camilleri, who supervises the police district in St Julian’s, said he was more likely to attribute concerns about Paceville to a ‘moral panic’ that stems from people seeing something out of the ordinary and making it out to be a wider threat that it actually is – often due to increased media coverage on the issue in question.

“In a normal night we could have 10,000 or 15,000 people in Paceville. When you consider the amount of people in a really tight space, I’d say there is a problem – but it’s not the standard issue for Paceville.”

Camilleri, stationed at St Julian’s since last August, supervises other police officers in their duties. But since then, he feels the moral panic around Paceville has been exacerbated by “the post-COVID effect”.

“We got used to two years of not having this sort of news. In 2018 and 2019, with bars operating in full swing, we saw much of the same behaviour... I wouldn’t say Paceville is a violent place. There are brawls and clashes anywhere where there is entertainment, especially considering that the night economy goes on till 4am and 5am,” Camilleri said.

No gangs in Paceville, yet

Camilleri adds that brawls in Paceville don’t tend to follow a particular pattern, in turn ruling out the idea of gangs wreaking havoc in the area. “We haven’t seen the phenomenon of gangs in Paceville yet. It has happened abroad, and we’ve seen people who are part of groups, but I wouldn’t say there is a gang against another, or that there’s tribalism in Paceville. What we have seen are separate incidents, and most often the people fuelled by alcohol and drugs.

“When there’s no pattern, that is in itself more taxing on the police force. If we see a pattern, such as these things happening mostly on Saturday nights, we can bolster the situation on that day from beforehand. But we’ve had brawls happening on Mondays and Tuesdays.”

More so, whenever an ambulance is called on site in Paceville, it is most often due to intoxication rather than injury. “They’re often young adults, such as 18 and 19-year-olds, who pass out and have to be seen by a medical professional.”

But Camilleri said that there is something to be said for the type of crowd that goes to Paceville. “Tourists visit Paceville, especially young tourists. The crowd is different from Valletta, where you still have entertainment till late at night but the difference in crowd is noticeable.

“I wouldn’t say there are particular persons or groups that are problematic. There are particular people, who are usually in a group of three or four, who are troublesome. These are normally marked by the club bouncers. Sometimes they pass us on the information and we tackle it as a police force, but most of the time that information is not passed over, and they’re tackled by simply kicking them out of the venues. That’s one area where we can cooperate with the internal security.”

Bouncers and CCTV

Camilleri pointed out that bouncers are licensed officers whose role is to enforce security inside the premises and work as doormen. But he insists they don’t often take the law into their own hands when identifying a rowdy club-goer.

“While we are concentrated on St George’s Road and St Rita’s steps, brawls do happen in other areas. They’re of a different nature – usually smaller and between young adults.”

For Camilleri, the pertinent issue with Paceville is not the crowd or the nightlife, but rather the environmental design of the space.

“In our case, nightlife is concentrated in two, literally three narrow roads,” he says. “Rubbing around with other people, usually intoxicated, creates tension. Literally trivial arguments blow up with other people defending you if in group or attacking others if they’re in a group.”

In 2018 government plans were underway to set up a system of CCTV cameras in the major areas of Paceville. However, the system was going to employ facial recognition, raising privacy concerns.  Camilleri said that having a CCTV system in Paceville would help policing, even without the facial recognition technology. “What we do now is request CCTV from other entities.”

Community safety group in the works

Nonetheless, Camilleri says that the police force is still trying to make Paceville a safer place for the community living there. But the issue is mostly joint enforcement. “Community safety is not something that belongs only to the police. It’s owned by so many entities – the MTA for example, health and safety for workers in the night industry, we need for example contingency plans for evacuations, such as with the CPD in cases of fire. These are all part of the enforcement solution.”

He pointed out that the police force is working on a community safety group to bring all entities around the same table and review every issue through the different viewpoints of each entity.

Camilleri added that another problem to policing in Paceville is consistency. The police force is more focused on having police officers working on set tasks, as opposed to just increasing the overall number of police officers present.

For example, there are around four police officers deployed each day that are dedicated to tackling pickpocketing. “It’s not happening in Paceville right now, but the pickpocketing has moved inside the clubs,” he said, adding that the police has even resorted to deploying plain-clothed officers inside establishments to tackle pickpocketing.

Camilleri said that Paceville is a priority place with the police force, and there must always be a set number of officers present in the area. “The number of police officers in Paceville is never decreased to deal with festivals or feasts in other localities,” he said.

Ultimatey, Camilleri insisted that petty crime and antisocial behaviour are inevitable in crowded places where people are intoxicated. “It’s not something you can prevent 100%. All we can do is make the community feel safe. Most of the time, the area is safe.”