Crime the changing face of Cayman

 Royal Cayman Islands Police press release, issued 28 July, 2009: “The victim told officers he had been approached by a man who asked if he could borrow a cell phone charger. The victim said that after he offered to lend the man his phone, two other men approached him and he was struck on the head. The man sustained a laceration to his head for which he was taken to hospital for treatment.”  
   What the police report doesn’t say is the man injured in this attack was chopped twice on the top of the head with a machete. He was taken to hospital with blood running down his face. He had to fight two or three attackers off in the front door of his home.
   “This was a home invasion, or an attempted home invasion,” said the victim who the Observer on Sunday is not identifying in order to protect the man and his family from retaliation.
   Although the higher-than-usual number of shootings, killings and robberies has dominated news headlines in the heretofore peaceful Cayman Islands over the past year; residents around the community are becoming more concerned that crimes like theft, burglary, and other incidents that involve intrusions on home and property are becoming so common that they aren’t even attracting notice anymore.
   The assault victim, who the Observer will refer to as Mr. Z, says the incident on 27 July has changed his view of Cayman in the long-term.
   “We like this complex and have decided we’d like to stay here,” Mr. Z told the Observer in an interview about a month after he was attacked in the doorway of his home on South Church Street. “But there are other considerations. Let’s say I had to go out of town for business. I wouldn’t want to leave my wife here.”
   “My longer-term view of Cayman is different,” Z says. “The level of crime and the type of crime, if you project that five or 10 years down the road…this is not a place we’d want to live.”
   Z says he went out into the parking lot of his complex around 11.30 that July night to put a tarp over his vehicle. He said he was approached by a guy who asked for a cell phone charger for a Blackberry. Z says he knew of other incidents where residents in the area had been approached by a similar man in the same manner.
   “I knew he was shady,” Z says.
   Z quickly walked back inside and noticed the man who had approached him was following him. Z says he reached the apartment and had begun to close the door when the handle was jerked from his control and two other men appeared in the door frame. One grabbed his arm.
   During the fight Z says his head was slashed twice with an object he believed was a machete.
   He managed to fight them off. Z’s wife, who was upstairs at the time of the attack, came back downstairs and noticed her husband bleeding profusely from the head. She called 911 and Z went to hospital for stitches.
   Z says RCIPS officers investigating the 27 July attack were both professional and courteous. But he says there were a few things that concerned him about the investigation as time went along.
   He says police informed him a person of interest was questioned and then released in connection with the incident.
   “At no time was I asked to look at a photo or a line up or anything of that nature, so how they picked out this person to question, I don’t know,” Z says.
   To date, no charges have been filed in the incident and no further arrests have been reported.
   Police have reported at least one other incident, a burglary, at the same complex about three months before Mr. Z was assaulted. No arrests were reported in that case.
   They took Every Bloomin’ Thing
   Sometime during the evening of 18 August to the morning of 19 August, about $15,000 worth of specialised gardening equipment was taken from inside two box trucks parked in the fenced lot of Every Bloomin’ Thing on Crewe Road.
   EBT Landscaping Manager Scott Daniels says the theft suspects were enterprising in the way they went about their work.
   “One truck was backed up against the hedge on the side and the other truck was backed up against the fence…so they didn’t have to bust through the fence like they did the last time,” Daniels says.
   Again, Every Bloomin’ Thing was hit by thieves about a month before the August incident. No arrests have been reported.
   Heavy-duty padlocks on each truck had little effect. Daniels says those responsible for the thefts jimmied the hinges on the bolts that the lock kept closed.
   “They took everything but the lawnmowers; everything you can pick up and carry with one hand,” Daniels says. “They took all the new stuff and they took their time, no doubt about that.”
   Daniels suspects the thieves must have known something about landscaping simply because of what was stolen. He said items such as edgers, weed eaters, hand held hedge trimmers, extended shears (for cutting high up bushes); pole pruners and backpack leaf blowers are expensive, high-dollar items usually used only by landscaping companies.
   Also, the equipment had just been purchased a month before it was taken.
   There are only a handful of those companies on island, and Daniels says someone would probably notice if the items were in use on Grand Cayman.
   “If I see a still backpack blower on the road anytime in the next 30 days, I’m stopping and I’m stomping on somebody’s a** about it,” Daniels says. “I can’t stand a thief, nothing worse than a thief other than somebody that abuses animals and children.”
   Daniels says it’s not just the business that is affected by such incidents. In fact, he says the workers that Every Bloomin’ Thing employs will likely find themselves far worse off than the store.
   “Now, there are 11 guys who would’ve had paycheques for between $400 and $600 on Friday (21 August) that aren’t going to have that now. I can’t pay them if they’re not out there making money.”
   Food for pets
   Even businesses that care for wounded, sick and stray animals have not been immune from the rash of property crimes.
   Island Veterinary Services, owned by Dr. Brenda Bush and her husband Phil Bush, has had its food supplies stolen from the back of the store twice in the past month.
   Why anyone would want to take 20-25 large bags of dog food is uncertain, but Mr. Bush says it did happen on 12 August. A similar theft had occurred at the business in July as well.  
   “Either they have lots of dogs or they want to sell (the food),” Bush says. “The economy is bad right now.”
   Bush says there’s really no secret about what’s happening, as far as he’s concerned.
   “People can see from across the road when we get a new shipment,” he says. “We sell it retail and also use it to feed the animals (that are under the vet’s care).”
   Bush says the vet’s building itself was broken into in February and a computer stolen. He says they’ve managed to prevent this from occurring again by leaving a large dog loose in the front office when they close up shop for the night.
   The store plans to move to its new location, away from the Eden Centre on Walkers Road, later this year. Bush says the centre never really recovered from Hurricane Ivan, and that most of it has since been torn down.
   But he says the crime problems have really only occurred in the last year or so.
   “We’ve never had this kind of problem before,’ he says.
   Burglary bonanza
   The crime that has affected the greatest number of people so far this year in the Cayman Islands is burglary.
   According to RCIPS statistics released earlier this month, 300 burglaries occurred between 1 January and 30 June, 2009. Those were incidents that were investigated by police officers who confirmed that either a home or business had been broken into.
   However, an open records request made by the Observer for this article showed that 427 burglary reports had been received by the police service. The largest number of reports came from George Town district (298), followed by West Bay (58), Bodden Town (40), North Side (17), East End (16), and Little Cayman (1).
   Police officials said the reason for the discrepancy is that individuals report crimes as burglaries that may turn out to be thefts or even robberies upon further investigation. For instance, the August thefts from Every Bloomin’ Thing would not be considered burglaries because the suspects broke into the trucks, not the business itself.
   Burglaries continue to be a major concern for police as well. The 300 burglaries recorded in six months this year represent a 55 per cent increase when compared to the first half of 2008.
   “Acquisitive crime, where people steal items to sell on, could be expected to rise during an economic downturn,” Police Commissioner David Baines said. “We have been looking at measures to counteract this.”
   An emphatic point was put on the growing problem in the first week of August when more than a dozen burglaries occurred in the space of less than 24 hours at local businesses and homes. The victims included a woman home alone, venerated tourism locations and even a local music store where owner Curtis Barnett had his laptop stolen.
   “I bought that laptop because my PC got washed away during Hurricane Ivan; we didn’t have it up high enough,” Mr. Barnett said. “So I go this laptop instead.”
   A massive increase in burglary reports in the first half of this year was the major contributor to a 44 per cent jump in serious crimes and an overall 13 per cent increase in crime in the Cayman Islands.
   RCIPS has vowed to crack down on the spate of burglaries across the Cayman Islands with a number of measures including road blocks in burglary “hot-spots” and increased focus on repeat offenders.
   “Wherever we see a spike (in burglaries), we will increase the roadblocks,” RCIPS Superintendent Marlon Bodden said earlier this month. “It’s going to be an operational decision based on certain areas. We will try our best to minimise the impact to the motoring public.”
   “Officers will not search a car unless they have formed the view that there are reasonable grounds to suspect (passengers) have done something illegal.”
   Mr. Bodden said some of the items stolen in recent break-ins, including TVs and certain larger types of electronics, can only be transported by vehicles to locations where they are to be sold. He said police are hoping some burglars can be nabbed in the act while transporting the goods.
   “There is a market for these items, particularly smaller electronics such as iPods,” Superintendent Bodden said. “The public needs to be aware that handling stolen goods is a crime under Cayman Islands law, punishable by up to 14 years in prison upon conviction.”