‘Specials’ bolster police ranks

Close to 100 people now wear the blue-striped uniform of a Cayman Islands special constable and spend at least 12 hours of their free time a month assisting the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

According to the assistant commandant of the special constables’ organisation, they’re needed more than ever.

‘With the shortage of officers at RCIP we are being asked to help more often than we used to,’ Assistant Commandant Carolyn Parker said. ‘I work the road just about every Friday and Saturday night.’

The Caymanian Compass has previously reported on the drop in police officers since 2007, which is largely due to the retirement of senior Caymanian police officers and foreign officers choosing to resign or not renew their contracts.

While the RCIPS ranks have lost some 30 officers overall, according to Acting Police Commissioner James Smith, the number of special constables has nearly doubled within the past two years.

Constables Commandant Richard Harris announced in May 2007 that he wanted to double the number of active special constables from roughly 65 at that time to about 120 officers.

Right now, Mrs. Parker said there are just less than 100 special constables on board, and another class of some 20 candidates have been chosen and will begin training next month.

Special constables are unpaid volunteers. They are trained as police officers in several respects and are given all of the law enforcement powers of trained, paid police officers.

Those who successfully apply for the position go through a 12-week training course, with classes held in the evening. About three to four hours training a week is required. Unlike paid police officers, there is no physical training required, but applicants are expected to be in adequate shape to perform their duties.

Generally, special constables are given what regular police would consider mundane tasks of filing paperwork, answering phones at the police station, providing crowd control at local events and the like. However, Mrs. Parker said ‘the specials,’ as they are often called, also ride along with police, making stops for drink driving and other traffic related arrests, even driving police cars on patrol.

‘Quite frankly, we’re on the road,’ she said. ‘We make cases, we go to court to testify, make arrests for DUI…but that’s always been the case.’

The only difference now is they’re being called upon to do so more often, Mrs. Parker added.

According to special constables’ eligibility requirements, the volunteer officers are subject to the same disciplinary rules and regulations as other police officers. They are required to show up on time, keep a clean uniform, and conduct their personal lives in a respectful and lawful manner. They can lose their position if they show up to a job late or do not work the required minimum of 12 hours per month.

However, the guidelines for what specific duties special constables are allowed to perform are not set out in the eligibility documents. According to the RCIPS, there is a draft of such a proposal but that has never been approved by the police service.

In general terms, most special constables are not allowed to drive police cars. Mrs. Parker said she was aware of fewer than 20 who are allowed to do so.

Also, special constables are not assigned to duties such as criminal investigations, firearms incidents and the like that require specific training to perform.

‘We hold all the rights and authority of a regular officer,’ Mrs. Parker said. ‘We have always been a great asset to them. We put in thousands of hours a year. The only thing we don’t get is a paycheque.’

Mrs. Parker said she is not aware of any further recruiting classes for special constables, other than the one in May that has already been filled. She said the organisation doesn’t want to discourage people from applying, but she warns recent applications may not be dealt with right away if there are no further classes held in 2009.

The RCIPS has not held a police officers’ cadet class for more than a year.