This is a story another Youropean told me, just a few days before I interviewed Gilbert:
‘On Malta I don’t feel the police are there to protect. A Scottish guy had hit the minister’s car, and broken the mirror. And the driver, who was inside the car, waiting for his boss, who was visiting his mother, got into an argument with the Scot. It was the Minister responsible for police, and the driver had a gun, and he started waving it at the Scot. The Scot ran off, the driver chased him, eventually shooting at the car. And the car was towed away. They put out a press release describing the incident and mentioning that the policemen had shot in the air. But then the press saw the vehicle, and the bullet holes. And now the minister is under pressure to resign. And they arrested the Scottish man; who had to spend 48 hours in jail.’
But here’s Gilbert, a friendly man who agreed to talk to me in his free time, even though his wife wasn’t feeling very well. And of course he shows a different side of the Maltese police…
‘To be very honest with you. I never admired the police. But I was curious. My friends joined the police. At the time I didn’t understand them. One friend later said to me: “Come join us”. They talked me into it,’ Gilbert (34) says. He started the police academy in October 2000. ‘I work at the headquarters. I used to work in the police station and also on the mobile squad. So that would have been more interesting to show you. Now I work in the general headquarters. In front office communications.’
Do you look at how different colleagues work abroad? Do you see differences?
‘I certainly pay attention to certain things. I see that all countries have their own problems. Here for example we don’t have a high rate of murders. There are crimes, but not the great bank robberies like in other countries.’
Is this because Malta is an island?
‘It is more because everybody knows everybody. Information will be gathered, people will always get caught. Only a few don’t get caught. The connections of the Maltese always point to the suspects, the suspects are always the same bunch.’
Do you have a jail then?
‘Yes, it is called Corradino Correctional Facility, and it is located in a town called Paola.’
How many people are there? Around 200 people?
‘Yes, something like that. There are the males in one section and the females in another.’
Sounds like a paradise for policemen to get your information that easily.
‘Still, people don’t cooperate. But you have to find a way of getting your contacts. You have to know the right people, you have to speak in the right way. To work as a policemen in a country is one thing, to work on an island is totally different. Here you have to use your brain and think. Here in Malta, it is very small and everybody knows each other and you have to evaluate what your steps will be.’
You can’t go by the rulebook here? Is it more a question of maneuvering?
‘Yes, that’s true.’
Has EU membership changed your work?
‘Personally, I think yes. I remember, if I am not mistaken, because of EU regulations our equipment had to be standardised, for example even our vehicles had to be standard. Before they were lacking in some respects. After we joined the EU, things started to change and now we have to carry certain equipment.’
Is that a good thing?
‘Yes, these are the tools of our job, you need those tools. Before you had to provide them yourselves. Before, if you had them ok, if you didn’t, it was tough luck. Now everybody has their standard issue equipment: portable radio, handcuffs etc. Before we didn’t even have them.’
You’re happy now? How do you like it?
‘I have my ups and downs. I am still here. It is quite ok. Some things could be better, but now I am alright. But I continue till the end. I have a 25-year contract. We are allowed to leave after that.’
Is that good enough? Do you need a second job to make ends meet?
‘It is enough, my wife works. Together we make enough, we have to see how the situation is in the future. It’s eleven years more. Some people continue to be police officers. Some stop and enjoy life.’
If you look at the European Union, Malta is by far the smallest. What’s it like to be part of the smallest country?
‘The representatives from Malta in the Europe parliament are very few since few seats are allocated to smaller countries. In that sense it is unfortunate. But we are a small island, so we have a our beautiful aspects like the sea, beaches, weather etc.. When it comes to shouting out, your voice not being heard is not nice. They always focus on the big wealthy countries like Germany or France. This is my opinion, what I see. When we have to ask for something, we don’t tackle the situation well because we are small.’
Do they even know about Malta?
‘We are not unnoticed. For example, the Commonwealth has been here. They chose us. Even important people like the pope came to visit us. Malta is even mentioned in the Holy Bible. So people know about Malta. It is beautiful here. Some think we’re lucky. Some don’t know about it.’ Smiling: ‘I like it when they don’t know.’
(interview Mark, written by Jolien Pil)