Theft in decline, but more fraud reported as Maltese become ‘richer’

Statistics show 18% less crime reported in 2018 than 2016, with drop in theft constituting the bulk of this downturn

Official government data shows that while 13,552 criminal offences, ranging from fraud to homicide, were reported to the police in the 2016 review period
Official government data shows that while 13,552 criminal offences, ranging from fraud to homicide, were reported to the police in the 2016 review period

Crime levels in the Maltese islands have seen a considerable drop over the past two years, with a more than 18% reduction in reports of criminal activity in 2018 compared to 2016.

Official government data shows that while 13,552 criminal offences, ranging from fraud to homicide, were reported to the police in the 2016 review period, the number for 2018 stands at 11,082.

In 2017, 12,974 crimes were reported; a decrease of almost 4.3% compared to the previous year, while the reduction in the number of reports in 2018 compared to last year is of over 14%.

The period covered by the statistics is January to September for all three years.

The most frequently reported crime in the past three years was theft, followed by criminal damage and domestic violence.

The decline in theft offences is responsible for the bulk of the decrease in crime over the last three years.

While 7,140 cases of theft were reported in 2016, there were 6,384 such reports in 2017, and 4,552 in 2018.

This indicates that although Malta’s population is increasing substantially – Eurostat figures show there were 460,000 people living in Malta at the start of 2017, increasing to 475,000 in 2018 – less theft is, in fact, taking place.

A heatmap showing pickpocketing hot spots around Malta
A heatmap showing pickpocketing hot spots around Malta

Criminologist Saviour Formosa said this reflects the fact that half of all reported crimes in Malta involve theft, most commonly pickpocketing.
“Somehow, the fight against pickpocketing is working. Whether this is because of better enforcement or increased awareness still needs to be determined through studies, which take into account the trends over the years. But even I was surprised by the steep fall in reports.

“Since the population is increasing by around 200,000 every summer, we would expect the number of crimes during this time to increase by 1,500. But this is not happening. People could be more aware of the risk of having things stolen from them. Another factor might be the greater visibility of police officers on the ground and more CCTV systems.”

Moreover, it’s also possible that certain foreign pickpocketing gangs didn’t come to Malta this time round, Formosa, who is also a government consultant, said.

“Each crime involves an offender and a victim, the latter of whom has a routine that ends up offering an opportunity to the criminal. In the case of theft, it seems the opportunities are decreasing.”

Double the reports of fraud

Fraud is the one offence that experienced a massive leap in reports in 2018 compared to the previous two years.

There were 390 reports of criminal fraudulent activity in 2016, but this more than doubled to 797 this year. In 2017, the number stood at 578.

“Fraud is now in the top five crimes, and the trends over the years show a steady increase,” Formosa said.

He said a society becoming more affluent leads to there being more of an occasion offered to the criminal to defraud someone.

“So it’s not because more people are becoming defrauders, but because there are more openings for the crime to be committed,” he said, “And more people are readily coming forward to report fraud, as well.”

Less marked fall in domestic violence

Cases of bodily harm and domestic violence are down, but the difference is nowhere near as large as with theft.

In 2018, 619 bodily harm cases were reported, 64 less than the 683 cases in both 2017 and 2016.

The number of domestic violence cases in 2017 increased to 968 compared with the 933 reported the year before, but has gone down to 906 in 2018.

A bill against gender-based and domestic violence was drafted into law in April this year, with the government also embarking on a campaign to raise awareness about the issue. Amongst the changes brought about by the bill was an increase in the protection offered at law to victims.

Prostitution cases plummet

In 2016, 71 cases of prostitution were reported, but this went down to 21 in 2017, and just two this year. The sharp drop comes at a time when lawmakers are planning to overhaul the law governing sex work.

Last month, the government approved a proposal for the creation of an exit programme for prostitutes, aiming to offer professional help to sex workers to move away from the prostitution trade and trafficking gangs.

The programme – which marks the first stage of a more comprehensive framework – was devised in cooperation with the Dar Hosea shelter, a voluntary organisation dealing specifically with cases of prostitution.  

Almost no human trafficking reported

There were only two cases of human trafficking reported in the period under review this year, and none in the same time frame in 2016 and 2017.

In July, a United States Department of State report on Trafficking in Persons had said the Maltese government is not fully meeting the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, despite significant efforts.

The slow pace of court proceedings is one of the factors hampering prosecutions, which often rely on victims – many of whom are fearful of the traffickers – to provide testimony

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