Despite a prodigious tally of robberies so far in 2011, the month of April has started peacefully
Royal Cayman Islands Police Chief Superintendent John Jones told a group of tourism industry professionals at the Marriott Beach Resort Wednesday that he didn’t want to jinx anything, but that he’s encouraged by the recent absence of robbery reports. “But just lately we’ve seen a decline [in robberies],” Mr. Jones said. “We have, of late, caught a lot of the bad guys. “I’m wary of handing out too much praise….but we actually managed to get through a week without a robbery last week.”
Actually, it was two weeks in a row. The last robbery to occur in the Cayman Islands was on 31 March at the First Caribbean bank branch at Plaza Venezia in George Town – that was exactly two weeks ago at press time Thursday.
Earlier in the year, between January and mid-March, Grand Cayman was averaging between two and three robberies a week.
In the past few months, local police have made arrests in several high-profile robberies; including the arrest of three young men who allegedly held up two tourists on Barefoot Beach, and two suspects accused in the robbery of the Tortuga liquor store in West Bay.
Police Commissioner David Baines told the Marriott audience that the recent drop off in robberies follows a marked decrease in overall crime since the start of the year. Mr. Baines said serious crime had fallen 39 per cent between January and mid-March and that overall crime decreased by some 27 per cent.
“This spike in robberies has really affected public confidence,” Mr. Baines said. “We’ve had some successes in taking people out who have been responsible for those offences, and we suddenly see a massive drop in a place like West Bay where…suddenly those robberies have stopped.”
Mr. Baines has previously cautioned that Cayman cannot simply “arrest its way” out of the robbery/burglary problem, and that eventually suspects who are convicted by the courts will be released from prison. He said the danger may be that “professional” robbers will start to eye other targets for their crimes.
“It’s like a business association, unfortunately,” he said. “They will look at the less risky attributes. So our robberies have gone from the bank robberies, to the individual who is walking down a dark street late at night, is confronted by two armed robbers who say ‘give me your wallet’.”
Commissioner Baines said a solution, and one that local police have urged local banks and other businesses to adopt, is a move toward a more “cashless” society. “There’s one instance in particular where we had a delivery system that took high value goods, namely cigarettes, dropped them off at various times and received cash,” he said. “It doesn’t take a genius to work it out, and needless to say that [delivery person] was targeted.
“If you run a business like that, what I’m looking for [from] you is to speak to your bank and say ‘look, we’re supposedly the fifth largest financial centre in the world, can we not have a system where I ring you, I’ve passed over my goods, and you can transfer the funds into an account’? You’ve reduced the risk you face as an organisation.”
Mr. Baines admitted there are some businesses, like corner shops or liquor stores that are always going to operate on a cash basis, but he said the country’s new public CCTV system will focus on areas around those businesses that are considered ‘high risk’.
Another technique the police are considering is the deployment of spray devices called “SmartWater” in some local businesses, including banks.
SmartWater, a UK-based product, is a liquid applied to valuable items so they can be identified by their owners. Another application of SmartWater is a sprinkler system able to spray a burglar with a fluid that can’t be washed off for months; this generates evidence that can connect a suspect to a particular location. “It’s not removable, it’s individually identifiable to that source,” Mr. Baines said. “That’s one of the issues we’re looking at in the long-term,’ he said.
The police service has also approached the local bankers association to discuss areas where Cayman can reduce the risks associated with cash. Mr. Baines has also advised local banks to move to a less open-style set up in their businesses that forbids people entering the bank immediate access to tellers behind the counter, possibly using devices like airlocks to shut off inner doors at the bank branch.
“There are some simple security procedures that are going to keep [customers] safe whilst they’re in the establishment, but at the same time reduce the number of times you would have to enter that establishment,” he said.