Cayman Islands lawmakers are worried short staffing in the islands police service has forced its leaders to pull neighbourhood officers away from their beats to investigate crimes.
‘The command in West Bay felt it needed to make arrests, but RCIPS (Royal Cayman Islands Police Service) is not making the inroads it needs to make,’ Opposition MLA Rolston Anglin said.
‘The people were coming to understand the police and respect the police and so evidence collecting was getting a little better,’ back bench MLA Lucille Seymour said. ‘People in George Town district would like to have back our neighbourhood police.’
Deputy Police Commissioner Anthony Ennis told the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee that the RCIPS never intended to reduce or eliminate its neighbourhood policing programme, which assigns a certain number of officers to police areas of each district. Those officers act as community liaisons.
However, Mr. Ennis said from time to time, neighbourhood police officers will be reassigned to other duties or will be promoted to higher ranks and other departments in the service. He said this does not mean those officers will not be replaced.
‘We always look at our priorities in terms of what’s happening on the ground,’ he told the committee.
The Caymanian Compass reported earlier this year that total RCIPS staff had been reduced by about 15 officers when compared to 2007. More than a dozen officers, mostly expatriates have resigned since the beginning of the year.
The department has not provided figures for how many police officers have simply chosen not to renew their two year government contracts.
West Bay MLA Cline Glidden Jr. said he knew some foreign officers had been enticed away by job offers in Australia or New Zealand.
‘Now we’re hearing concerns about…coverage in the different districts,’ Mr. Glidden said.
Bodden Town MLA Osbourne Bodden said he had heard reports that departing officers couldn’t be replaced until vacation time they had not used prior to their leaving was paid.
‘You have a number of officers who have left the service, but they have accumulated time…so you cannot replace them,’ Mr. Bodden said. ‘The service is understaffed.’
According to the police service, accrued time off is only paid in monthly allotments, similar to a salary. Departing officers are not paid that time in a lump sum.
A departing officer who had saved 60 vacation days, roughly 12 weeks or three months of work, would be paid that amount over the course of three months.
Chief Secretary George McCarthy said he would discuss the matter with Acting Police Commissioner David George.
Mr. McCarthy said, as far as he was aware, the police service still had ‘in excess of 340 officers.’ He agreed that there would be a reasonable rate of turnover at RCIPS, but doubted that number would be as high as 50 officers each year as some lawmakers had suggested.
Acting Commissioner George has never suggested in any public forum that the police service is understaffed.
Mr. Ennis said RCIPS planned to host a cadet training class in the beginning of 2009. The service has not held a training class this year.