Community concerns about violent crime in Grand Cayman’s West Bay district have not subsided, despite the sharp drop in serious crimes island-wide over the past 15 months.
Royal Cayman Islands Police statistics generally reflect lower crime rates in West Bay recently. However, the newly-appointed police commander for the district, Chief Inspector Angelique Howell admitted there is room for improvement.
Ms Howell told a group of 30-35 people at a public meeting Tuesday night that reports of domestic violence in West Bay from May 2006 to April 2007 went up 63 per cent when compared to May 2005 through April 2006. Incidents of threatening violence had also increased by 19 per cent during that time.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem,’ Ms Howell said. ‘When you see somebody fighting, report it to the police. It’s not that you’re telling on someone, you’re just seeking assistance for that family.’
West Bayers spent much of the meeting urging Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan to boost staffing levels at the district’s police station.
Residents used one recent incident as an example to help make their case for more uniformed police presence in West Bay.
The incident involved a fight between two women. It occurred 17 March on Reverend Blackman Road, which is near the police station on West Church St.
According to residents who spoke at the public meeting, an officer in the station at the time the fight happened looked out the door, saw the altercation, and went back into the building.
Darlene Owens-Elliot said she witnessed the officer going back into the station after the fight had broken out.
‘When the report was made to the police station, the officer there said ‘I can only call for help, because I’m the only one here at the police station,’ Ms Owens-Elliot said. ‘After the fight had been broken up, a police car…drove up, because the officer at the station had called for help.’
A police spokesperson said an RCIPS sergeant talked with a woman who came in to report abuse and threats at 11.30am that day. About a minute after the woman left the station, a fight broke out across the street.
The police report on the incident indicates officers had arrived on the scene of the fight within five minutes of the woman’s visit to the police station. The two women involved in the fight were arrested on suspicion of assault.
Commissioner Kernohan said there is always more than one officer assigned to the West Bay police station.
‘I review the 24-hour reports from each police district every day…and I can tell you explicitly that at no time have I ever seen just one officer posted to West Bay,’ Mr. Kernohan said. ‘It may well have been ‘I am the one manning the station, and I can’t leave the station.”
‘Police officers don’t sit in a police station. They are out patrolling the streets,’ the Commissioner said. ‘To keep officers inside the building doing nothing, waiting for somebody to come along and report a crime is not good policing.’
Chief Inspector Howell told the audience at Tuesday’s meeting that there are routinely four police officers, including a sergeant, assigned to that station on each shift. Police work in four, six-hour shifts each day.
Commissioner Kernohan said a 29 officers, including neighbourhood police officers and officers from the criminal investigations division, work out of West Bay.
Deputy Police Commissioner Anthony Ennis said he thought the March incident was due to a breakdown in communication between the officer at the West Bay station and members of the public. Mr. Ennis, who oversees RCIPS operations, said he agreed that police staffing in the district should be beefed up.
‘We have recognised that increased demand in West Bay requires more police officers,’ he said.
Mr. Ennis said police were also moving forward with plans to expand and renovate the West Bay police station to keep up with the demand.
The RCIPS’ first application to renovate the facility was turned down by the Central Planning Authority because of property set-back issues.
Mr. Ennis told the crowd at Tuesday’s meeting that those plans are now being reworked and additional property would have to be purchased next to the station site.