The Observer on Sunday takes an in-depth look into the crime problem in Cayman, and ways local leaders plan to fix it
A man is gunned down on the dance floor of a popular nightclub in front of more than 100 people.
Three young men are ambushed on a street corner by gunmen; a 20-year-old is dead, a 14-year-old paralyzed.
A telephone company executive is kidnapped, raped and strangled. Her remains are found inside the burned out hulk of her SUV.
A banker is bludgeoned to death, his body left in the trunk of his vehicle and that vehicle set on fire.
Two years ago, most residents of the Cayman Islands wouldn’t have believed such crimes could even happen here. But they have; and now Carlo Webster, Marcus Ebanks, Estella Scott-Roberts, Frederic Bise and many others are no longer with us.
Cayman’s murder rate in 2008 and 2009 hit levels the country has never seen before, and although the total number of killings remains relatively small, the crimes have had a seismic impact in a community of some 60,000 people.
But it’s not just the high-profile or most heinous crimes that are grabbing the country’s attention.
Police statistics showed a 44 per cent jump in serious crimes in Cayman over the first half of 2009, with a 13 per cent rise in overall crimes.
Property crimes like burglaries and thefts lead the way. There were 300 burglaries reported in the first six months of this year, a 55 per cent increase over last.
Numerous business owners, residents and even visitors have expressed concern about the sheer volume of crime. In some cases, victims have only agreed to speak to the Observer on condition of anonymity; afraid that their nemeses may return to extract vengeance.
Pressure has increased from all quarters on the police and elected lawmakers throughout the year to do something about the rise in crime.
“Hard action must be taken now,” Premier McKeeva Bush said earlier this year.
In recent weeks, the government has agreed on a general plan to combat crime on several levels. The Observer has reviewed each individual aspect of that plan.
Step 1 – More resources for RCIPS
Police Commissioner David Baines has spoken in frank terms over the last several months about staffing issues within the police service. Baines has estimated the police force to be 50 officers short.
The force size has been affected by three issues; first, the fact that it didn’t hold a recruiting class for about 18 months, second, the retirement of many long-time veteran Caymanian police officers, third, the departure of more than two dozen foreign police officers over the past 18 months, most of those from the UK.
Staffing issues are improving. Two police cadet classes have been hosted this year and are expected to add more than 30 new officers to the RCIPS. But young blood isn’t the only answer.
“I need additional investigators,” Baines said in a recent interview. “I’m looking to recruit staff from an external jurisdiction with no immediate connections to RCIPS.”
Part of the reason for the new investigators is to continue on-going probes of alleged corruption and misconduct within the RCIPS. The new police anti-corruption unit is also required to be staffed by the New Year.
“The reason that I’m doing that (bringing in new investigators) is two fold, one is for the independence and maintaining the integrity. But secondly, the very simple issue is, investigators, you can’t just open a box and deliver them. They need to have experience. They need to have a decade as a detective or more in other jurisdictions so they understand evidence, investigation and the procedures that will be necessary to take on some very complex investigations.”
Baines estimates he needs about 10 new detectives and at least three civilian scenes of crime officers, who process evidence.
In addition, government has urged the police to form a special task force, concentrating on firearms-related offences.
The commissioner has said that RCIPS overall response to firearms incidents would undergo a review. He has previously made clear that he did not want the entire police service armed, or to operate as a “paramilitary unit” because he feared it would distance officers from the community they serve.
Rank-and-file RCIPS officers do not carry guns. Those who are properly trained may carry pepper spray or batons. Armed officers are available for response on each shift, but those are specialists who are assigned to the police Uniform Support Group.
Baines has previously indicated that the current firearms response and risk assessment policy at RCIPS may lack flexibility in how police handle reports of weapons.
“Most of the cases…where there’s direct information that said the offenders left the scene, officers are there within five minutes on cordons around the corner waiting and then we’ve got armed officers who are coming to back them up. In those cases, I actually want to say…move to the area, progress with caution and actually get to the community.”
The review will also determine how many trained, armed police officers are available, and what shifts they work.
Getting out into the community has also been a major initiative for RCIPS in the last several weeks. Uniformed officers are often seen during the day in central George Town and along West Bay Road on foot patrols.
But Baines said residents shouldn’t always assume they can see everything the police are doing to keep the community safe.
“The other bit that many people will not have seen is the beach patrols that are routinely done during night time, because of the proximity to the condos,” he said. “We have had a problem with burglaries in the past; we have now routinely got a burglary patrol who’s engaging both the security guards at condos along the beach. They’re also doing beach patrols themselves in the early hours of the morning.”
“We’re trying to balance the public confidence issues in our main commercial centres, and that’s not just in George Town but everywhere there’s a shopping complex or a bank…we’re trying to get our visibility out there so people are seeing us throughout the day. That’s not just for the feel good factor; actually the villains are seeing us out there as well.”
Step 2 – CCTV
Closed Circuit television cameras, either photo cameras or video, are used by many businesses in the central George Town area now and are routinely reviewed by police.
RCIPS has actually released pictures of suspects in robberies or attempted robberies of late, including pictures of two men involved in a brazen mid-morning robbery at Margaritaville along the George Town waterfront.
Some businesses have previously balked at the cost of CCTV. But Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Wil Pineau says there may be less resistance to the idea these days.
“The business community is so concerned at this point, I think they would assist the police in raising money for those efforts,” Pineau says.
The difficulty is not so much convincing businesses to install cameras, but rather getting a workable system in place to help police in real time.
“You have to develop a national plan for CCTV,” Pineau says. “The big thing we would want to do is come up with some connectivity through a system for CCTV cameras.”
Those cameras could feed directly back to the George Town police station, Mr. Pineau suggests. That would allow police to monitor the cameras on a 24-7 basis, provided they have appropriate staffing levels.
Step 3 – Bars and clubs
The Cayman Islands government began a review of the country’s Liquor Licensing Law in 2007 on several levels.
One section of the review focused on how licenses for those facilities are awarded; another looked at appropriate distances between facilities that sell liquor and entities such as churches, schools, public parks and beaches; and another concentrated on how nightclubs and bars are secured and policed.
To date, there has been no formal proposal for changes to licensing requirements in the liquor law placed before the Legislative Assembly.
In the interim; police, the Liquor Licensing Board and club owners have agreed to certain steps aimed at increasing security in and around those establishments. Nightclubs have been asked to hire additional security staff and install metal detectors/wands to search patrons at the door.
Following September’s deadly shooting inside Next Level nightclub, some clubs agreed to enact stricter measures including a tighter dress code, and implementing pat-down searches of patrons both male and female.
The night Carlo Webster was killed at Next Level, there were at least ten security guards in place and a police inspector admitted that there was little more the club could have done to ensure its patrons’ safety.
Step 4 – Protection of witnesses, jurors
Commissioner Baines has previously noted that some criminal court prosecutions in Cayman failed simply because witnesses were afraid to testify or jurors were afraid to convict based on the evidence.
He has urged the UK government, the governor and Cayman’s attorney general to “secure urgent legislation that would permit witness evidence to be given with anonymity before court and the need in some cases to secure judge-only trials where potential threat to jurors is of concern.”
Cayman has a witness protection law, known as the Justice Protection Law that was passed by the Legislative Assembly last year.
The law sets out circumstances under which protected witnesses can be placed in safe houses, guarded by law enforcement personnel. It even makes provision for false identities to be given to those individuals.
However, Attorney General Sam Bulgin has admitted the difficulties of a witness protection scheme in a small country like Cayman. He has said that the law’s passage does not force other British Overseas Territories to cooperate in witness protection initiatives – although numerous discussions have been held on the topic over the years between Caribbean territories.
Generally, criminal defendants before the court are allowed to choose between trial by jury or judge alone. Also, there is currently no provision in Cayman Islands law that allows for anonymous witness testimony.
Both Premier Bush and members of the Chamber of Commerce have advocated upping minimum sentences for individuals convicted of firearms-related crime as an additional deterrent.
“Obviously, a lot of thought has to go into it, but when we’ve got a shooting that happens in a nightclub with 150 people, including ten experienced security officers – it’s a bit of a cause for concern, I think,” Chamber President Stuart Bostock said during a recent interview.
Step 5 – Update the Police Law
A draft Police Bill was released publicly last year, but never came to the Legislative Assembly for a vote.
Following a high-level meeting in October with top-ranking civil servants and elected officials, it was decided to follow through with the Police Law revamp to “better equip police officers to deal with emerging trends in criminality.”
However, the amended version of the Police Bill that was released in 2008 would also grant certain rights to criminal suspects that do not currently exist in Cayman Islands law.
Section 62 (1) of the Police Bill (2008 Revision) requires police officers to notify a person they are being arrested and the grounds for that arrest either before they are taken into custody, or as soon as possible afterward. If that is not done, the arrest would be considered unlawful.
People arrested would also have the right to contact a family member or friend and speak with an attorney within 24 hours of being taken into custody, unless specific circumstances allow for a further delay of 24 hours. That delay would have to be authorised by a police superintendent.
Step 6 – Electronic monitoring
Electronic monitoring of prisoners out on parole or those let go as part of the prison system’s executive release programme was approved several years ago by the legislature, but has never been used in the Cayman Islands.
According to Commissioner of Corrections and Rehabilitation William Rattray, electronic monitoring is just one part of the Alternative Sentencing Law which the governor has not signed off on yet. Mr. Rattray says prison officials have the authority to use electronic monitoring for prisoners released under the executive early release programme, but they have not done so yet.
Executive early release allows the director of prisons to let lower-risk inmates go to ease overcrowding conditions, after those inmates have served a portion – usually about one-third – of their sentence.
Supervised release on parole was also anticipated as a way to lessen prison overcrowding. Cayman’s main lock up for male offenders, HMP Northward, has fluctuated between 25 and 50 per cent overcrowding levels in the last three years.
Reconstruction of the Northward prison will proceed as government’s budget allows, lawmakers were told earlier this year.
The prison system also continues to struggle with the problem of juvenile and adult male offenders being housed in the same facility. Last year, prison officials were forced to move several adult offenders to Eagle House juvenile facility because of overcrowding at Northward.
The Bill of Rights in Cayman’s new Constitution will make the current prisoner housing situation illegal. However, the section dealing with the treatment of prisoners in the bill won’t come into effect until November 2013.
Step 7 – Address at-risk youth
Community Affairs Minister Mike Adam has been tasked with leading community efforts to head off the potential spread of criminal behaviour amongst Cayman’s young people.
Informing Minister Adam will be a crime study completed in 2006 by Barbadian criminologist Yolande Forde about key factors leading to criminality in the Cayman Islands.
That study found 47 per cent of the 194 Northward prisoners surveyed had mothers who were 19 years old or younger at the time of their birth. The review also found that many had grown up in single-parent homes where child/spouse abuse had occurred.
A number of inmates surveyed said they had performed poorly at school.
The report took issue in particular with Cayman’s policy of social promotion in the public education system. Social promotion is a policy that passes students through grade levels based on age, not merit or performance.
“Important skills such as goal-setting and perseverance are not being instilled because they are not operating in an educational system based on meritocracy,” Mrs. Forde wrote in her 2006 review.
Sixty-four per cent of inmates surveyed had either been suspended or expelled from school.
Step 8 – Steering committee
Civil service and elected leaders also agreed to establish a criminal justice steering committee, to be headed by the attorney general.
The committee would act as advisory group to develop further crime reduction strategies.