The departure of several senior Caymanian officers, the removal of other top commanders and general low morale among the rank-and-file is plaguing the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service as it heads into 2009.
The service’s new Acting Police Commissioner James Smith is now faced with attempting to fix the problem during his six-month temporary appointment.
‘Everywhere I’ve gone [in Cayman] people have told me morale is low, and to a greater or lesser extent that’s true,’ Mr. Smith said during a recent interview with the Caymanian Compass. ‘If the force is as unhappy as some people make it, then it is indeed in dire straits.’
The Caymanian Compass has learned that several current high-ranking Caymanian officers, including two police superintendents, have applied for jobs in other government departments within the past several months.
Other high-ranking Caymanian officers have left the RCIPS ranks within the past few years including Chief Inspector Robert Scotland for a position in civil aviation; Chief Inspector Richard Simms to the vehicle and licensing department; as well as former Superintendent Greg Thompson, and ex-officers Shaun Ebanks, Robert Arch and Burmon Scott.
Staffing levels at the department have fallen from a high of 365 officers in 2007, to 343 uniformed police, due to the more recent departure of officers, mostly foreign-born, from the ranks.
The RCIPS did not hold any recruiting classes last year.
According to statements given to the Legislative Assembly in 2008, neighbourhood police officers in certain areas of Grand Cayman are being pulled off their beats to respond to calls because of the short staffing.
The department is also leaving temporarily vacant the positions of Deputy Police Commissioner held by Rudolph Dixon, and Chief Superintendent John Jones, who are both being investigated for alleged criminal misconduct. Mr. Dixon has been charged. Mr. Jones has not. The duties of both men are being handled by lower-ranking counterparts as needed, according to RCIPS officials.
Mr. Smith said officers have previously given a number of reasons for leaving; anything from the complexity of the job, to inability to get promotions, to personal reasons and even national circumstances.
But he doesn’t think the situation is as bad as the general public, and the press, are making out.
‘I’ve been on patrol in some of the more difficult areas in the Cayman Islands with officers at the front end,’ he said. ‘They love their job. They’re doing a damn fine job, so they’re not all unhappy and not despondent in the way that some people will tell you they are.’
Mr. Smith indicated during the interview that he would apply for the full-time commissioner’s job when it is posted. He said he has a strong interest in the job and in seeing RCIPS through the difficult times ahead.
‘Would I like to stay longer? The decision is not mine, but the effort can be mine to stay here,’ he said. ‘I think there’s a lot of good things to be done.’
There has been some grumbling amongst both former and current cops recently about the number of temporary and acting police commissioners chosen to run the service. Since former Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan was placed on leave in March 2008, three acting commissioners have held the post. One stayed on island for just 48 hours before departing.
The highest-ranking local member of the police service left, Deputy Commissioner Anthony Ennis, has said publicly that he doesn’t want the top job. But there is some public sentiment that the next police commissioner should come from Cayman.
‘Officers…expressed disappointment and dismay in their Gold Command (top ranking police) administrators who they say embraced foreign policing practices, despite overwhelming concerns and strong opposition amongst the ranks,’ former RCIPS officer Shaun Ebanks wrote in a recent letter to the Compass.
Mr. Ebanks said some former police officers would strongly consider returning to the force if someone like former Drugs Task Force chief Derek Haines was selected as commissioner.
‘Myself and others would consider returning,’ Mr. Ebanks said in an interview with the Compass. ‘Mr. Haines is a leader from the front. He’s a high energy individual.’
Mr. Haines’ name has been mentioned in recent months as a potential applicant for the commissioner’s post but he has not responded to Compass calls for comment about his intentions.
Mr. Ebanks admitted that the appointment of a local commissioner isn’t a magic bullet that would solve all the problems facing RCIPS.
‘We’d take just about anybody who could come in and fix this mess,’ he said.