In what has previously been an unusual step for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, West Bay residents will be warned and educated during a 3 December public meeting about criminal gang activity, and what they can do to help stop it.
Police have monitored and kept intelligence on gangs in Cayman for many years and actually spoke to the Caymanian Compass extensively about the topic back in 2005. At the time a police study found 13 separate, loosely formed gangs with roughly 100 members.
However, officers have historically been reluctant to use the ‘g’ word to describe groups of local youths that sometimes engage in criminal activity.
That apprehension has faded somewhat of late.
‘There’s a gang culture creeping up on us,’ RCIPS Chief Inspector Angelique Howell said during an interview this week.
Mrs. Howell said it was important not to overstate the problem, and that in fact, the police efforts were mainly be aimed at nipping gang activities in the bud.
For instance, she noted Cayman’s gang problems of today are far less serious than those experienced in other Caribbean countries, South America or Mexico. Major Latin American gangs such as MS (Mara Salvatrucha)-13 are not known to have membership in the Cayman Islands.
However, in previous years, immigration authorities have issued advisories that certain MS-13 members or members of rival gangs were believed to be on island. They were thought to be here visiting family members, according to immigration officials at the time.
In recent months, Cayman has experienced several violent killings that Police Commissioner David Baines has publicly described as gang-related and retaliatory.
‘From the country’s perspective we do have this issue raising its ugly head, because of all the recent violent issues we have going on,’ Mrs. Howell said. ‘We’re not saying that all of it constitutes the gang activities, but we must agree that it does look that way.’
Chief Inspector Howell said the December meeting is aimed at raising awareness about gang activity in the police district she’s responsible for; West Bay.
‘It’s especially for parents…to give parents the information that they would need in order to identify when their children’s behaviours change, how it has changed and what constitutes gang activities,’ Mrs. Howell said.
Police Sergeant Everton Spence will attend the upcoming meeting at John Cumber Primary School to help teach parents what clothing, colours and gang signs to recognise. Mrs. Howell said parents should also be aware of certain language their kids use, and make attempts to monitor social networking Internet sites they are on.
Chief Inspector Howell admits RCIPS has been ‘very cautious’ in the past about what police have called gangs. She said the reason for this is that groups of youths, young men in particular, tend to associate with each other in a cliquish way and police don’t want to punish kids for simply hanging around with each other.
‘It’s a particular behaviour, like the same tattooing, the body marking, the same style of dress and so forth, you didn’t really see that much before,’ she said.
The Cayman Islands Penal Code (section 231-2007 Revision) actually defines criminal gangs, and makes membership in one a crime punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison.
The 3 December meeting is scheduled to start at 6.30pm at Cumber Primary in West Bay.