Protect and serve

Many people in the Cayman Islands
might not even realise there has been an organization here since 1994 that
represents police officers.

But
there is; and the Royal Cayman Islands Police Association has recently reformed
after electing new membership following a rocky period that saw two of its
leaders retire from the police service.

Group
president, Inspector Rudolph Gordon of the Financial Crime Unit, said he wants
officers to know someone is there to represent their interests. And Gordon says
the organization intends to be “a bit more vocal” than it has been in past
years.

“If an
officer reports a matter, say, to their manager…and they don’t feel that their
issues were appropriately addressed, they can come to us,” Gordon says.

The
police association represents all RCIPS officers from the police constable rank
all the way up to superintendent, whether those officers are dues-paying
members or not. However, certain benefits – such as payment for legal
representation – are afforded only to members who are paid up, Gordon says.

The
group recently met with Police Commissioner David Baines about various issues
that officers have spoken of privately and publicly for a number of years. “The
fact that police would come to you tells me something,” he says. “They feel the
need to go to somebody.” 

Gordon
and police Sergeant Betty Ebanks, also a member of the association management,
say the commissioner was accommodating and seemed to want to work with the
officers during the 30 June meeting.

But
there are certain issues on which labour and management don’t see eye to eye.

“A lot
of the time the commissioner(s) talk about bringing in specialist officers and
we don’t feel like enough is being done to make provision for the local
officers,” Gordon says.

This
issue of local promotion – often called succession planning in Cayman – has
been a bone stuck in the gullet of many local police officers for a long time.

The
idea behind it in the Public Service Management Law is that government agencies
are expected to train Caymanians for management level positions within any
organisation. Gordon says RCIPS has failed to do that in many cases,
particularly in specialist policing jobs. 

“First
of all, we know of no succession plan in that sense,” Gordon says. “(The
commissioners say) we are short of this skill and we have to bring in
experts.  But what you don’t see is a
programme to address the shortfall on a more permanent basis.

“It’s
always, ‘let’s bring in the skills’, but not, ‘let’s bring up what you have to
meet that skill’.”

Ebanks
believes the lack of cogent succession plans is one of the factors that has led
to the development of a younger, less experienced police service in Cayman.

“The
number of long-serving officers, Caymanian or expatriate, is in the minor
numbers,” she says. “Most of them have gone, retired, resigned…so we have a
high turnover of young officers.

“Those
officers with more experience tend to get discouraged and either return to their
hometown or go into the private sector. Then it leaves us with that same
repeated turnover that we have the junior officers and nobody to mentor
them.” 

A
number of more experienced local police officers retired in the aftermath of
Hurricane Ivan – mostly in 2005. But even up until last year, there were
problems noted with police leaving the service faster than they could be replaced.

Between
January 2008 and through the first quarter of 2009, before Commissioner Baines
took up his post, there was what could be described as an exodus of both
foreign and veteran local police officers from the RCIPS.

Forty–nine
officers left the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service between January 2008 and
February 2009, with more than half of them having resigned.

That data,
obtained through a Freedom of Information request, shows the 49 police
officers, including Caymanians and expatriates, either resigned, ended their
contracts, took a leave of absence, or retired from 1 January, 2008, to
mid–February 2009.

That
was between 12 per cent and 14 per cent of the total number of officers employed
by RCIPS at the time.

Of
the 27 police officers who resigned from the RCIPS during that period, 14 were
from the United Kingdom.

The
RCIPS also lost 10 veteran officers to retirement during that period. All ten
were Caymanians with between 20 and 39 years of experience on the force.

The
police service has never been able to recover its full numbers since these
departures.

Upon
taking the helm on 1 June, 2009, Commissioner Baines sought to boost a police
staffing shortfall of some 50 officers, partly by adding new recruits and
partly by bringing in veteran law officers from jurisdictions including the UK,
Canada and Europe to handle more detailed skill work and investigative services.

Ebanks
says this is one area where the RCIPS can take advantage of the incoming
expertise.

“(In
the past) the organisation did not identify anyone and peg them onto the
experienced officers, learn what they do…so when he leaves you know exactly
what to do,” she says. “If we want two specialists, we bring two. We don’t
bring one and say ‘let’s train one’.”

There
is no seven-year residency term limit policy in place for government workers,
including police, and that means foreign officers can stay here as long as they
like assuming their contracts are renewed every two years.

But
Ebanks says that’s not happening, either.

“We
don’t know whether the environment is conducive to them staying; we don’t know
what it is, we haven’t identified a cause.”

One of
the less frequently reported side effects of the two-year long misconduct and
corruption investigation within the RCIPS – known as Operation Tempura – was a
major behind-the-scenes bust up between former acting RCIPS commissioner James
Smith and previous leaders of the police association.

The
disagreement involved the return of Chief Superintendent John Jones – one of
three RCIPS commanders placed on leave because of the investigation in 2008.
Jones was cleared of any wrongdoing in connection with the investigation. 

Some
local police association members had privately expressed concerns about Jones
being given a new contract and, at one point, had scheduled a press conference
to speak about it. That conference never happened.

Association
members also met with Smith about Jones’ reinstatement. Smith declined to
comment about the meeting.

Less
than a year after this internal dispute became public, both then-Police
Association President Kim Evans, and Vice President Courtney Myles retired from
the police service.

Commissioner
Baines, upon taking over the force, publicly expressed his concerns that
certain “factions” seemed to have appeared within the RCIPS.

Inspector
Gordon and Sergeant Ebanks said the differences within the force – including
those of race and nationality – were discussed in the 30 June meeting with
Commissioner Baines.

“To
say (those matters) don’t present some issues….it has its difficulties,” Ebanks
says. “(The commissioner) has given us his assurance that he will do all that
is in his power to identify problems and limit it.”

Gordon
noted that RCIPS has not come up with a diversity programme yet to address
issues of race, sex, age and other matters regarding discrimination within, as
well as outside of, the police service.

Although
the police association has been in existence for some time, it doesn’t have an
office space or dedicated staff members to operate such an office.

Gordon
says this is another matter that has been taken up with the commissioner.

“Currently,
the representatives…we do regular policing and then we address officers’
issues,” he says. “It’s kind of difficult, and we would like to have representatives
in a permanent role to be in a better position to effectively address the officers’
issues.”

The
association has asked that some of its representatives be allowed to work
full-time in that office so that police have a place they know they can go to.

The
absence of an office for the police association may have been one of the
reasons why the RCIPS association “did not appear to be as active to some officers”,
according to Sergeant Ebanks.

The
office could also be used to address other matters such as police officers’
health and welfare.

“We
don’t have an officers’ health and safety policy,” Gordon says.

“They
feel like everything is coming from everywhere and everything is changing and
it creates a problem for their welfare,” Ebanks says. “E.G., The long hours, having
worked 12 hours all night long and you’ve repeatedly lost your weekends or
holidays, special occasions with family and friends, it starts to take its toll
on you.”

While
there has been some discussion over the years about changing the 12-hour shift
schedule the police service currently uses, Gordon says there is no plan to
propose any changes to that from the association’s perspective.

“The
feedback we get from officers is that they like the 12-hour shift system,” he
says.

Inspector
Gordon admits many officers don’t like nighttime shifts, which typically go
from 7pm to 7am, but he says that they are simply “part of the nature of what
we do.”

“When
it comes to shift work, I think one joins the organisation knowing it is shift
work, but they get here and hope that ‘it will never catch me’,” Ebanks says.

Gordon
says a separate human resources meeting, which association representatives
attend periodically, has now been set up with the RCIPS command structure.
Association officials will no longer attend command staff meetings, known as
the ‘Gold Command’ meeting within the service. “That’s not the most appropriate
place to address the association’s issues,” he says.

But
the association will address those issues, Gordon says, one way or
another. 

“We
do intend to be more vocal where issues relating to RCIPS officers’ are concerned,”
he says. 

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