George Town resident Marilyn Conolly got quite a shock recently when she walked into a restaurant and saw two uniformed police officers sitting at a table. On top of the officers’ table sat two large handguns.
Ms Conolly is a strong supporter of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service. She coordinates the neighbourhood watch in her home community of Admiral’s landing. She was one of just 16 people who showed up at a police meeting last week at Mary Miller Hall with RCIPS commanders and neighbourhood police officers.
But she was shocked by what she saw at the restaurant.
‘I said (to the two officers): ‘How can you be in a public restaurant with guns on the table as if it is no big deal?” she asked. ‘And they said to me, ‘this is the way Cayman’s going to be…you better get used to it.’
‘That is not a part of our culture and it is unacceptable in my opinion,’ Ms Conolly said at the meeting.
Ms Conolly’s statements may be difficult for non-Caymanians to understand. For example, in the US every certified police officer in every police department carries a gun as part of the standard gear.
In the UK, the model under which the RCIPS now operates, firearms are carried by specially trained officers who respond only in certain situations if the need arises.
But until relatively recently in Cayman, police officers did not carry guns in public.
Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan told those gathered at Wednesday’s meeting that he understood Ms Conolly’s dismay at seeing the armed officers.
‘My personal thought on this…to have armed police officers sitting at table…isn’t ideal,’ Mr. Kernohan said. ‘But if the question is ‘are armed police officers necessary in the Cayman Islands?’ the answer to that is absolutely.’
Mr. Kernohan said officers who are trained and permitted to carry firearms by the department are not allowed to leave those firearms unattended in their vehicles. He said this raises another question about what officers do with those weapons if they go into an eatery.
‘In the USA you’ll regularly see police officers taking their refreshment in public,’ Mr. Kernohan said. ‘The officers use that time to be in the community.’
He said the issue about whether officers can eat or take a lunch break in public is being reviewed by the RCIPS command staff.
Ms Conolly said she has no problem with police eating while in uniform at a restaurant.
‘I simply do not wish to have my children walk into Quizno’s…to see police officers with guns on the table,’ she said.
The issue of RCIPS officers carrying firearms was also addressed at the department’s meeting in West Bay last week.
However, residents there took a different stance.
Commissioner Kernohan was asked whether police who have access to firearms are stationed in West Bay.
‘So, if we have another serious bank robbery, then you don’t have to call on George Town police,’ said resident Henry Morgan.
Mr. Kernohan said there are always a minimum of two police vehicles carrying armed officers on Grand Cayman at any time during the day.