In January, dozens of Bodden Town residents were surprised to see a helicopter circling the sea shore south of the civic centre late one night.
That surprise turned to puzzlement, and in some cases derision, when the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service reported it was using the chopper to hunt down men who officers said were illegally using a hook stick to catch lobster.
For some time now the RCIPS has been renting a helicopter from the Cayman Islands Helicopters company to help support its officers on the ground and at sea.
The aircraft has been used in several successful police operations, including the recent round-up of a fast canoe in North Side which officers said was carrying 1,000 lbs. of ganja.
However, police have not said much publicly about the use of the helicopter, and under what circumstances RCIPS will use it.
‘We have deliberately held back,’ Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan said. ‘The plan (was) once we had our own helicopter in place, we would be publicising much more what we were doing.’
The police service has not yet purchased its own helicopter. But Commissioner Kernohan said it is a priority.
‘We’re still in negotiations with the government,’ Mr. Kernohan said. ‘It’s important to the Cayman Islands and it’s an intrinsic part of modern policing. It’s not just….proactive crime patrols, but it’s also used for search and rescue.’
He said the Bodden Town incident in January was misunderstood by the public.
‘A lot of people, I think, suspect the helicopter was launched in order to arrest people that were breaking the marine laws,’ Mr. Kernohan said. ‘The reality…was the helicopter was in the air and an officer had shouted for assistance, that he had multiple suspects on the beach and required help.’
‘That certainly is one of the criteria that we would launch the helicopter for.’
As it turned out, two men were arrested for possessing an unlicensed spear gun in the form of a hook stick. Three other men were detained and questioned, but not arrested.