Attorney-General Sam Bulgin said government is preparing a wide range of initiatives to boost police and judiciary powers, streamlining their ability to combat crime.
He also detailed efforts to build Cayman’s first DNA and forensic labs, which he hoped would open before the end of summer.
‘I have been extremely vocal about it (the labs) and in March 2004 got Cabinet approval for about CI$300,000,’ he said.
‘Things have progressed quite a bit,’ Mr. Bulgin said.
Much of the equipment had already arrived on the Island, and at least one salary was already being paid.
A Canadian DNA specialist has started and is helping build the facility at George Town Hospital as an addition to the existing lab.
‘We are still fitting it all out, and the room and equipment must all be configured, so I think probably by the end of summer, although we still want to leave a window,’ he said.
He described the DNA lab as a microcosm of a larger project, creation of a forensics facility that would offer a wide range of services beyond DNA analysis, including ballistics, toxicology and serology.
‘It will avoid anything being sent abroad for testing, provide a quicker turnaround time and preserve the integrity (of evidence), so it cannot be called into question,’ he said.
Because of backlogs at US labs, the RCIP has ‘experienced difficulty having samples tested and returned to us in good time.’
Cayman’s Solicitor-General and Superintendent of Police had already toured labs in Jamaica, the US and Barbados, the most sophisticated in the Caribbean. Mr. Bulgin said he hoped the Cayman lab also would serve the region, becoming self-funding by offering services to its neighbours.
Already, the BVI, Montserrat and Anguilla had expressed interest in a Cayman lab, he said.
‘It will be a stand-alone, facility, independent of the Health Services Authority, and have its own director.’
No candidates had been identified but government was hoping to get someone on board soon to see the lab through its formative stages.
‘The government is fully supportive of the concept of forensics and are pursuing this in earnest,’ he said.
Mr. Bulgin also outlined some of the legislative changes he was examining in response to demands from the public, police and judiciary for stronger crime-fighting powers.
For example, he said, he was looking at mandatory sentencing.
‘Some advocate longer jail terms for certain crimes, minimum sentences. This is being looked at with a view to amend legislation to ensure persons convicted of violent offences receive a much longer time in jail,’ he said.
Another major problem, frequently articulated by senior RCIPS officials, is Cayman’s parole system.
‘Right now, after you complete one-third of your sentence, you are eligible for parole. Under consideration is to increase that threshold to one-half of your sentence.’
Chief among the changes being contemplated is an increase in the number of police officers, both constables and specialists and implementation of an asset-confiscation scheme by which drug traffickers would be subject to wholesale loss of possessions.
‘We will hit them where it hurts,’ Mr. Bulgin said. ‘We will seize houses, boats, cars, all their other assets. We will intensify our efforts in that regard, and it will serve as a significant deterrent.’
Anything seized under the new legislation could also relieve pressure on Cayman’s national budget, he said.
He said his office was seeking to boost the witness-protection programme by striking partnerships with overseas jurisdictions, but admitted significant obstacles remained.
‘People are reluctant to come forward with information because of several inherent reasons. It’s a small community and people feel that unless I’m directly affected they don’t want to say anything.’
He acknowledged the widespread perception that extended-family relationships often interfered with information gathering – and that officials were powerless to combat it.
‘You do not want to give up a family member and there really is no way to overcome that,’ he said.
‘Additionally, sometimes you will give information, but it’s of very little value unless you are prepared to stand up and testify.’
He said a task force was examining ways to change laws limiting police activities
For example, he said current legislation makes inadmissible videotaped police interviews with suspects.
He hoped to give police greater powers to stop and search, and to expand official abilities to collect both intimate and non-intimate samples for testing.
‘We want to modernize police law in a significant way,’ he said, while nodding to civil libertarians.
‘We are mindful of putting civil liberties under pressure so we will strike a balance,’ he said.
He also said his office was looking at legislation to outlaw gangs, and was studying codes in Canada, Hong Kong and the US.
‘ If you’re a member of an association or fraternity whose main purpose is to commit unlawful acts, obviously that’s something we want to stop,’ he said.
He was also seeking ways to strengthen Cayman’s border patrols, long a sensitive subject for the RCIP. Police have a single vessel, the Cayman Protector, to patrol 110 miles of coastline and the 80 miles that separate Grand Cayman from the Sister Islands.
‘We are looking at ways of beefing up our marine capabilities, and at some stage, supplementing that with an air survey. We need to find a way to deal with that. It’s not easy to police. We need to find a way to cooperate with neighbouring jurisdictions, and we hope to make a significant dent.’
While admitting the plans were likely to cost millions of dollars, Mr. Bulgin said government was committed to providing the funds.
‘Crime fighting cannot be too expensive,’ he concluded, matter-of-factly. ‘Otherwise, it’s not worth living in society.’