Marine Enforcement Officers in the Cayman Islands say they’re concerned about their safety and feel they do not have adequate tools to defend themselves.
The Marine Enforcement Unit serves as a primary line of defence against those who would poach from the Islands’ waters and take advantage of the delicate marine environment.
Acting Chief Conservation Officer Mark Orr said his division is not properly equipped to face the challenges the officers may encounter on the job.
In fact these officers are often asked to do their jobs with no tools or updated training and almost always are dealing with people who are under the influence of one substance or another, according to Mr. Orr.
‘A lot of times persons who are fishing illegally are not only impaired but also have spear guns and/or knives at their disposal,’ he said.
Mr. Orr admitted that his team of officers currently have to go through the commissioner of police for upgrades in equipment and training.
However, he stated that once the Cayman Islands Conservation Bill was passed, the director of the unit in unison with Cabinet would have the final say in what types of enforcement tools the Marine Enforcement Unit could uses.
With this in mind, Mr. Orr added that he hoped this would happen soon, as the frequent changing of police commissioners was an obstacle in any upgrades for the unit.
At the moment, Marine Enforcement Officers depend on police support when a situation is beyond their ability to control and an armed uniformed support group will usually respond to such a request.
Alternatively, Mr. Orr said it would be added comfort if the department could have Tasers, mace, or pepper spray and not necessarily lethal weapons.
‘A lot of the work our officers carryout is in the more hidden, less luminous areas of Cayman,’ said Mr. Orr.: ‘In 10 years of service I have only had two physical encounters in which I had to use force, but considering the fact that our officers are on single-person-patrol, I am still very aware of the danger.’
Mr. Orr was referring to the reality that the department is also understaffed and in need of three more officers in order to have teams out on the beat, as opposed to the single-person-patrols.
He said the department was confined by budgetary constraints and that was why these appointments had not occurred.
He added that most officers were trained in hand-to-hand combat, though only two of them were authorised to carry batons.
Currently, the police bear the responsibility of training and issuing the equipment for the Marine Enforcement Officers and according to their health and safety policy statement, the police pledge to provide a ‘safe and healthy environment, whilst providing equipment that is suitable and properly maintained.’
It remains to be seen however, if any upgrades will be made with regard to the Marine Enforcement Unit before the Conservation Bill is passed.
Backbench MLA Dwayne Seymour said the Conservation Bill, which has been continually delayed, still needs revision.
Mr. Seymour said there was a presentation given by Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie recently on matters concerning the Conservation Bill, which was a good sign and quite progressive.
However, Mr. Seymour added that the bill was drafted by the previous government and has to be looked at in detail before proceeding.