[WATCH] A new breed of old Bobby on the beat in Mellieha

A new police unit is testing the ground and building closer ties with the Mellieha community to prevent crime and solve problems of social discord

Consultant Christopher Bull, above (right) has brought his experience as a member of the British police force, to the Maltese force
Consultant Christopher Bull, above (right) has brought his experience as a member of the British police force, to the Maltese force
A new breed of old Bobby on the beat in Mellieha

Community police in Mellieha are attempting to solve one of the most common forms of social disturbances: the neighbourhood nuisance.

But this time, the officers tasked with the job are not simply the cops down at the police station. In Mellieha, Malta’s police force is test-driving its first ever community policing initiative.

This dedicated unit of police officers are specifically tasked with strengthening their relationship with the public and the Mellieha community, while curbing petty and domestic illegalities.

There are just three constables and a sergeant leading this small force, and while their roles remain the same in terms of tackling all forms of crime, their areas of speciality are actually all the more mundane: traffic and illegal parking, loud noise and quarrels between neighbours… these domestic issues of typical discord may sound like the daily beat for constables, but in reality, the community police officers are there to ease the tension on these problems by having a better relation and tact with the public.

Sergeant Gabria Gatt says the new unit can help police prevent crime thanks to its bonds in the community it serves
Sergeant Gabria Gatt says the new unit can help police prevent crime thanks to its bonds in the community it serves

An idea employed since the 1980s in the United States, community policing is a law enforcement philosophy which allows police officers to continuously operate and patrol the same area, while fostering a closer bond with the residents living in that area.

One of these police officers is Charles Azzopardi Refalo, who says that in the short time the project has been running, his colleagues and him have already received positive feedback from the community. “We started off by letting people know about the project by launching an educational campaign in schools, at community events and in shops around Mellieha,” Azzopardi Refalo said.

The residents and business owners of the different areas were also given the emails and personal phone numbers of their designated officers. “This lets the residents know that we are always there at their disposal,” Azzopardi Refalo said.

His superior, sergeant Gabria Gatt, is in charge of the team. “As regular police officers, we used to approach criminality in a reactive manner; now we are looking to prevent it,” she says, in explaining how the community policing team works together with the police station’s officers.

 Constable Charles Azzopardi Refalo is one of the community police officers based in Mellieha
Constable Charles Azzopardi Refalo is one of the community police officers based in Mellieha

“Whenever a big case happens, we refer to the police station to do the initial work of gathering evidence and talking to the victims involved.

But when the situation dies down, and the air is cleared up, we go in and talk to those involved, letting them know we are there to help, while gathering valuable information which may not have been prioritised or remembered when tensions were still high,” she said, using as an example a typical case when a quarrel arises between neighbours.

“I believe wherever the new system is enacted, it will leave a positive impact. People show you that they enjoy having the police around, as it feels safe,” she said.

Briton Christopher Bull, who has had 32 years of experience in the British police force, is the advisor on the community policing team project. Bull is a firm believer that community policing should be a cornerstone of crime prevention.

“It has a lot to do with educating people. The important thing is to have the police force and the officers there for the community.

“Traditionally there has always been a reactive strategy to policing, but the new system looks to be pro-active strategy to tackling criminality. It is a way of telling the Maltese community, ‘come and talk to us, we are there for you, and let’s solve these issues together’.”

But a cultural shift is needed, and the police force must look to be ahead of crime before it happens. “It’s what it says on the tin really… we should be working hand in hand with community,” Bull says.

While still a pilot project, the government is looking at introducing the initiative in more localities, including areas with higher crime rates.

More in National