In a frank address to the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce Wednesday afternoon, Police Commissioner David Baines said a group of 15 people were responsible for the majority of the recent gun crimes being committed in the Islands.
Mr. Baines said some of these individuals had previously been arrested and even charged in connection with shootings, but were let off either because of insufficient evidence or witnesses who were scared to come forward.
‘At the moment we have 15 individuals who are spoiling our outlook for the future,’ Mr. Baines told a group of about 100 Chamber members at the Grand Marriott Resort. ‘These 15 individuals are well-known to our officers. Regretfully, some of these individuals have walked free.’
Although he did not mention any specific names, Mr. Baines did make reference to the recent deadly shooting inside the Next Level nightclub. He also noted another individual had been featured in a recent police service press release seeking information that could lead to the apprehension of a firearms suspect.
The commissioner said some steps needed to be taken to reform not only how the Royal Cayman Islands Police handle criminal investigations, but how criminal justice is administered.
Mr. Baines noted exploring the potential for more judge-alone trials, as opposed to trial by jury, might be one option.
He said that some cases had come to court with ‘evidence in other jurisdictions that would have convicted people’ but ultimately failed because jurors here were intimidated.
‘When we have people in the judiciary who are fearful of retribution, how can we expect the public to come forward?’ he asked the Chamber audience.
However, Mr. Baines also bluntly acknowledged the failings of police investigations at certain crime scenes, which he said had sometimes led to embarrassing newspaper headlines. Part of the problem, according to the commissioner, was that officers had not received the proper training in law enforcement techniques.
‘We have not responded with the right skilled people at the right time,’ he said.
Once that training is in place, the commissioner said he would like to devolve responsibility during crime scene response to the actual officers on the ground.
‘Traditionally, it’s gone back to a hierarchy approach,’ Mr. Baines said. ‘I’m looking to lose some of the rigidity in the hierarchy.’
Mr. Baines said he also planned to bring in law enforcement experts from the UK to assist RCIPS officers in criminal investigation and interviewing techniques. One of those individuals, Steve Brougham, arrived in Cayman this week.
Police have been taking measures to actively pursue what Mr. Baines described as gang members by stepping up road blocks and traffic patrols around various districts; an idea that he admitted has been unpopular in various circles.
‘I’m starting to get complaints about the police because we’ve started to stop people and search,’ Mr. Baines said. ‘The perception is that we’re only issuing traffic tickets.’
While he said he wouldn’t make apologies for drink driving arrests, Mr. Baines noted that some of these traffic stops had led to the recovery of illegal firearms and drugs.
The commissioner also cautioned business owners about recent spectacular rises in certain criminal offences that have been reported in the press.
While he agreed burglaries had seen a massive increase so far in 2009, he noted robberies stayed about the same when compared to 2008 and assaults had actually decreased from last year.
What was of more concern was the level of violence displayed in some of the cases, and the weapons, particularly firearms, that had been used.
The rise in acquisitive crimes, like burglaries and thefts, was expected to a certain extent, according to Mr. Baines.
‘Burglaries tend to be directly associated with unemployment and people being laid off,’ he said.
The commissioner also spoke frankly about the lack of stability within the RCIPS that had led to the departure of officers, particularly from foreign jurisdictions, that began last year.
‘There are still vacancies…where we’ve had specialist officers depleted in some cases up to 50 per cent,’ he said.
The police service hosted two cadet training classes this year, bringing in more than 30 new recruits. However, Mr. Baines said those new trainees wouldn’t make up for 50 or so officers the service has lost over the past year and a half.
‘They aren’t additional staff,’ he said of the trainees.
Another hard hit area was neighbourhood policing, which Mr. Baines said once boasted a staff of some 30 officers that had now been reduced to 12.
Mr. Baines said he refused to sacrifice community police officers simply to put more armed officers in the RCIPS Uniform Support Group.
‘I don’t think a gun on somebody’s hip will encourage trust (among the community),’ he said. ‘And I don’t expect neighbourhood officers to be carrying firearms.’
The commissioner said he intended that the RCIPS remain an unarmed police service, but if more officers were needed to provide a faster armed response to occurrences of crime, that would have to be considered.