The news that a 24-year-old man died early on Sunday morning after being involved in a fight in Paceville provoked various reactions, mostly shock and anger.
The raw crime statistics of drunkenness, petty theft, rowdiness and worse, do not begin to describe the squalid picture on the ground.
Unsurprisingly, fights and brawls are a common occurrence in the entertainment hub which is frequented by thousands of young people who consume large quantities of alcohol and drugs.
Security is undeniably an issue in Paceville. Three years ago, 74 young people were injured in an incident at a club when a glass staircase collapsed under the pressure of scores of people who were trying to exit the venue.
Stabbings, brawls and fights happen every week. Many young people often go home covered in blood after being beaten up by bouncers who are supposedly employed to protect patrons.
Residents often complain of having their properties and cars damaged. They have to live with these disturbances all year long, with the situation worsening in the summer months.
Such accidents cannot be avoided by increased police presence alone, but despite countless promises of greater surveillance, the situation never changes.
Police sometimes take up to 40 minutes to arrive at the scene. CCTV footage often disappears, fuelling accusations of collusion between police officers, club owners and bouncers.
Crime statistics consistently show that St Julian’s and Paceville are officially Malta’s crime capital. This is why Paceville has gained notoriety for its ‘lawlessness’.
Paceville is also an industry in its own right, with hundreds of people directly or indirectly employed in the entertainment industry. But it is also an increasingly shady industry and the interests vested in the area are considerable.
Successive governments have always been coy about imposing changes which may prove unpopular with powerful entrepreneurs with close ties to both mainstream political parties. In this sense at least, Paceville is also a power-broker in its own right.
Every time somebody is injured or murdered in Paceville, politicians quickly promise more surveillance, including greater police presence. But incidents keep happening and there seems to be no will to tackle the security issue. Incidents will never be completely eliminated but security should and must be improved.
Paceville is set to become a financial centre once all the towers and luxury projects are erected and authorities must implement a long term plan to deal with Paceville’s endemic problems of lawlessness.
In 2012, parliament’s Social Affairs Committee published a report for public consultation on security and public order in Paceville. The problems in Paceville stem from organisational inadequacies and lack of law enforcement. The need to bring some sort of order and structure to the way it is managed and controlled is essential.
The proposals in the 2012 report included (among many others) that “security needs to be increased on all roads, and there should be security checks in nightclubs and bars to ensure these all comply with required safety measures”.
Other proposals include increased police presence, more CCTV cameras, the installation of a decibel metre to monitor noise, and an ambulance.
Politicians and security forces do not need to reinvent the wheel. All they need to do is to implement the changes proposed in the 2012 report while protecting the privacy of residents and revellers.
But over and above implementing these proposals politicians must stop shying away from grabbing the bull by the horns. A confrontation with the monster that Paceville has become is inevitable. Otherwise entrepreneurs will become richer while young people are punched, stabbed and at times killed.