Customs officers may get guns

A bill placed before the Legislative Assembly for consideration would allow Cayman Islands customs officers who serve in the joint police, customs and immigration Marine Unit to carry firearms.

According to a proposed amendment to the Customs Law, “an officer…assigned to perform duties with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Marine Unit…may, with the authority of the collector (of customs) and the approval of the commissioner of police, carry arms in performance of those duties.”

The bill would also require that authority to be given “in accordance with the general or special directions of the governor.”

LA members would have to vote in favour of the change before the amendment takes effect.

In 2006, the Legislative Assembly granted customs officers the ability to carry handcuffs, batons and pepper spray, but that approval expressly forbid the customs collector from issuing firearms to his officers.

However, police commanders publicly stated more than two years ago that government would look to arm customs and immigration officers, as well as police, in the future.

The RCIPS uses a specially-trained officer unit known as the Uniform Support Group to respond to incidents where firearms are required on land. Also, other officers may be given permission from time to time to carry weapons on their person if the commissioner sees fit.

Immigration officers also have the legal ability to carry weapons, providing approval is given beforehand by government Cabinet members.

Deputy Chief Secretary Franz Manderson, who formerly served as chief immigration officer, has said that he believes immigration officers should not carry weapons “as a matter of routine.”

Rather, he said that immigration favours the police model of a specially trained unit of officers assigned to particularly volatile situations. However, the Immigration Department does not currently have a unit similar to the RCIPS Uniform Support Group.

Enforcement officers with the Department of Environment have also recently pressured government to enact legislation that would allow them to carry protective weapons while on marine patrol.

There are provisions that would allow for the in the National Conservation Bill, but that proposal has yet to be taken up by the assembly.