Are more needed? Top cop takes a look
Within the past few weeks, two incidents involving police response to reports of armed suspects have raised concern about whether those men were initially allowed to get away.
The first was a robbery at a West Bay store where the suspect made the clerk and a customer go to the back of the room, swiped cash from the drawer, and took off.
The second was an early morning burglary at a beach home on Boggy Sand Road where a woman was allegedly threatened with a gun. She managed to escape the terrorising ordeal with minor physical injuries.
In both cases, police officers were close by and arrived on the scene within minutes. However, the suspects were not apprehended.
In the Boggy Sand Road burglary the home’s owner, real estate broker Kim Lund, said he was told police weren’t allowed to go after the armed man until specially trained Uniform Support Group officers, who were armed, arrived on the scene.
‘We’ve got the criminals that are armed and the police that aren’t,’ Mr. Lund said. ‘These first two officers were so close they probably could have caught this guy right away.’
An arrest was made by police later in the week in another aggravated burglary case where a knife-wielding suspect threatened another woman in a different West Bay home. Police didn’t state whether the same man had been involved in the Boggy Sand Road case.
In an interview late last week, Police Commissioner David Baines said he wanted to make clear that he did not intend to make the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service an armed ‘paramilitary unit.’
RCIPS officers historically do not carry handguns, although they can be armed with sprays and police batons if they receive the proper training.
‘I want us to remain an unarmed service,’ Mr. Baines said. ‘If we become a quasi-paramilitary unit, we further disengage from our community.’
However, Mr. Baines said the issue may be a lack of flexibility in the current RCIPS risk assessment policy that sets out how officers are to respond to reports of weapons.
‘There’s a rigid policy that’s been in place which has been that you…wait for armed support,’ he said. ‘Our policies need to be flexible.’
‘Most of the cases, and those two cases (referenced above), where there’s direct information that said the offenders left the scene, officers are there within five minutes on cordons around the corner waiting and then we’ve got armed officers who are coming to back them up. In those cases, I actually want to say…move to the area, progress with caution, and actually get to the community.’
The difficulty for police is that they don’t always know when a report of a gun is real.
Mr. Baines said so far this year there have been 40 reports of firearms incidents in the Cayman Islands. Only 10 have been bona fide, but he said officers have to respond in each case as if the suspect really has a weapon.
He said he also intends to review how many trained, armed officers are in the RCIPS and what shifts they work.
‘Have we got enough officers who are armed? Have we got a shift system to match the demand so that they’re in the right place? Are we ensuring that we don’t have them all patrolling the same area?’
As of last week, the RCIPS had 326 total officers on the force, with another 18 in training and another cadet class being planned. That’s a drop of about 40 officers from mid-2007, when the service numbered some 365.
Mr. Baines said the service may increase its numbers through recruiting, but he won’t commit to adding more armed officers to the schedule right now.
‘If I have to give…more armed officers, I can’t go into neighbourhood policing,’ he said.