Over the past month, people residing in Malta experienced a major shift in lifestyle due to the COVID-19 pandemic reaching islands. Along with this situation, came a change in the kind of petty crimes being reported and also a rise in domestic violence reports.
The Malta Independent spoke to Senior Inspector at the Investigations Department within the Police Force Fabian Fleri, who laid down the facts on the changes that the Police Force has observed when it comes to such crimes.
The most notable change in petty crimes, Inspector Fleri explained, revolved around theft. While highlighting that, when comparing March 2020 to March 2019, there was actually a 25% decrease in thefts, a difference in the types of theft has been noted with some types reducing and others rising.
As an example, he mentioned that pickpocketing has gone down, however also added that thefts from non-frequented establishments has seen a rise.
“We expected this because there has been a shift in the whole population due to the change in lifestyle,” Fleri said. “Funnily enough, consequentially, the lifestyle of thieves has to change as well since they start shifting their focus. There are changes that will make things more difficult for them, so they would obviously opt for easier targets.”
He explained that one must also consider the fact that due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the person committing such crimes will also be wary of contracting the virus, so they might hold back from doing certain things they usually would.
In light of these changes, inspector Fleri said that the Police Force is continuously monitoring the situation in order to remain proactive – “this is the fifth week of the Coronavirus pandemic, so we are shifting resources according to the types of crime that become more prominent.”
One way they are doing this is by monitoring places that will be more vulnerable to theft during this time, such as construction sites.
These places have a lack of security as some are not even occupied at all at the moment, so they are easy to steal from, he explained. A lot of builders and contractors have a habit of leaving tools or materials behind and these are quite easy to sell off.
Rooms found in fields share the same problem, as most fields in Malta are used by people who farm as a hobby or by hunters, which means that they are not frequented as often.
Furthermore, inspector Fleri said that crimes like pickpocketing, snatching of items and mugging have almost dropped to nil since public places are emptying by the day. This means that more people are staying at home which is why residential thefts have receded. Yet, theft in non-frequented residences or establishments has seen an increase.
This newsroom asked if he thinks that instances of theft might increase due to the economic imbalance.
“One might assume that thefts are related to someone who is fighting to get food on his plate but until now we have not seen a rise in theft due to such cases.” he said, while pointing out how extreme it would be to think that an entire population experiencing such problems will fall back on stealing.
Nonetheless, he still thinks that there might be a potential increase if the situation persists. “There are a number of things that are being implemented to ensure that this does not happen but, yes, it is still a possibility which is why we are trying to be proactive and shift our resources where they are needed most.”
Inspector Fleri said that one benefit that came from the shift in lifestyle is that the police can respond more efficiently since there has been a considerable reduction in traffic and there are more police patrolling the streets nowadays.
One problem they ran into was with the investigative branch which is based at the depot. If one police officer were to get infected, the whole branch – that is, one-third of the whole police force – would need to quarantine. To avoid this predicament, they have spread the branch across police stations all over the island.
“People should remember that we are human too and we are at risk of contracting the virus,” he said.
He added that the police are following the guidance given to them by the health authorities but they have to see how they can adapt it to their work.
For example, the Police Force took the initiative not to use human resources from the investigative branches for COVID-19 patrols as they are still needed elsewhere.
“There has been an increase in domestic violence reports since people are staying at home and reports of this nature still need to be addressed. Additionally, if the risk assessment results as high, the police are still taking urgent court action. The courts might have stopped working, but urgent cases are still being handled, otherwise, they will escalate and get out of hand,” inspector Fleri explained.
They have also completely changed the way they arrest people and transport them and, thankfully, everyone has abided by directions till now.
Suggestions for the public
Inspector Fleri suggested that anyone who has materials at their building sites should not leave them unattended but rather put them somewhere under lock and key.
With regard to non-frequented houses or establishments, he appealed for owners to perform regular checks on their property and if they are not able to do so for whatever reason, they should inform a neighbour to check for them.
The police are also encouraging people who have CCTV cameras to check that they are working , especially when there is a power cut, or even in the event of daylight’s savings which can cause a malfunction in some cameras.
With regard to alarm systems, Fleri said that since they usually work by means of a telephone call, owners should direct these calls to both their local police station and the depot itself so that the police can react quickly.
On a positive note, he pointed out that, since the pandemic reached our islands, he has noticed that people are becoming more vigilant in their reports as they are able to pick up on irregularities more easily now that they have to stay at home.