Commissioner will limit armed police

The Royal Cayman Islands Police
Service will not assign firearms to all of its rank-and-file officers under the
stewardship of Commissioner David Baines, the commissioner told a Chamber of Commerce
group last week.

Mr. Baines, who took up the
commissioner’s post little more than six months ago, said he is seeking to add
trained officers to the RCIPS Uniform Support Group – the armed police unit.
However, he told about 50 Chamber members that he didn’t want to flood staff
with armed officers.

“I’d rather concentrate efforts to
a smaller, highly trained staff that are able to respond quickly,” Mr. Baines
said last week at a Chamber crime forum hosted at the Marriott Beach Resort on Grand Cayman.

With the recent upsurge in violent
crime, particularly robberies and gun-related crime, calls from the public to
start arming patrol officers have been growing, the commissioner said.

But he said maintaining the UK traditions
of an unarmed police service might actually help deter gun violence in the long
run.

“If you think the presence of armed
officers stops crime, go to Jamaica where the guy who delivers a pizza has a
gun strapped to his hip,” Mr. Baines said.

However, the commissioner told the Chamber
audience that he is looking to recruit additional officers who are proficient
in firearms for the RCIPS that will allow trained Uniform Support Group
officers to backfill at police stations during a firearms incident.

Basically, if one armed police unit
is called away to a response in a certain area of Grand Cayman, another armed
unit will be put in place at the station the first unit departed in case another
firearms incident occurs in that area.

Cayman’s other law enforcement
services, customs and immigration, also allow certain of their officers to
carry weapons if they are working with police officers on the joint Marine
Unit.

Portfolio of Internal and External
Affairs Chief Officer Franz Manderson said the first such immigration officer
has now been trained and is responding to calls with the police unit.

“It’s historic for the Immigration
Department,” he said during the Chamber meeting.  

There were eight homicides recorded
in the Cayman Islands last year, believed to be the highest total in the Islands’ history. Firearms were used in six of the eight
killings.

However, Mr. Baines cautioned the
Chamber group to put those numbers in context. In terms of total crime, the
numbers for 2009 were actually significantly lower than in 2007.

“Commentary and rumour on the
island would have us believe that crime is out of control,” he said.

For the first few weeks of this
year the total number of crimes committed in Cayman dropped when compared to
the same time last year, the commissioner said.

There were two key differences in
2009 that caused public perception of Cayman crime to ramp up, Mr. Baines said.
 

“What was different…was the number
of shootings and murders,” the commissioner said. “And often the difference
between murder and attempted murder is a matter of luck.”

Also last year, Mr. Baines said
there was a marked growth in gang activity with what he described as
“tit-for-tat shootings”.

The commissioner has previously
blamed about 15 so-called trigger men for most of the violent shooting incidents
that occurred in 2009, most of them belonging to criminal street gangs in
either George Town or West Bay
district.

“A significant number of those
individuals have been arrested, some of them are in prison – not for the
shootings they’ve done – but for some lesser offences,” he said.

Mr. Baines said the majority of the
weapons reaching Cayman’s shores appear to be coming from the second-hand
market in the United States,
but he said a fair few were also coming in on drug canoes travelling between Jamaica and the Cayman
Islands.

Measures to counteract both issues
were already well under way.

As previously reported in the
Caymanian Compass, the customs service is anticipating the purchase of a large
cargo scanner, similar to an X-ray machine in next year’s government budget.
That scanner will be able to view large containers at the George Town port and presumably locate
firearms and other weapons prior to them entering the country.

The police service helicopter,
purchased in 2007, is also expected to arrive here in less than two weeks. It
is outfitted with a forward-looking infrared or “FLIR” camera that can record
images for potential use in court. Mr. Baines said the aircraft would be a
great help to the RCIPS Marine Unit.