Editor’s Note: The Caymanian Compass introduces another Compass Point feature. This time we take an in-depth look at crime in the Cayman Islands. The series is slated to run each Thursday for the next five weeks.
Over the past two years Cayman has been inundated with reports about how ‘crime is on the rise’. An examination of the crime numbers, however, paints an altogether different picture.
The Cayman Islands’ crime rate for 2010 is much lower than it was five years ago.
According to figures put out at the time by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, there were 1,155 serious crimes (such as burglary, murder, rape, robbery, firearms discharge, etc) reported to police in 2005. In 2010, there were 791 serious crimes reported. That’s a fall off of about 32 per cent.
And the drop increases when you consider the population at the times the statistics were taken. In 2005, there were approximately 22 serious crimes committed per 1,000 people in the population. In 2010 that number falls to 14.4 serious crimes per 1,000 individuals due to a slight population increase. That leads to a 35 per cent drop in Cayman’s serious crime rate when comparing 2005 to 2010.
Overall crime also fell between the two years, even though more minor offences such as thefts, damage to property and threatening violence rose. Cayman’s overall crime rate in 2005 was about 56 crimes per 1,000 people; in 2010 that rate was 51.6 crimes per 1,000 people.
In 2006, then-Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan received public commendation for his department’s efforts in drastically reducing serious crime, and indeed, those numbers did fall sharply in 2006. Serious crime fell by about 25 per cent and overall crime dropped by roughly five per cent.
Yet, serious crime totals in 2006 were still higher than the ones reported by the RCIPS in 2010. There were 872 serious crimes reported in 2006, compared to 791 reported in 2010. Overall crime was a bit lower in 2006 than in 2010, but when compared to the population at the relevant times, the crime rates remain practically the same.
Even in 2007, serious crimes (820) outpaced those reported in the “high crime” year of 2010. Crime numbers during 2008 reported by the RCIPS were not usable for purposes of comparison because during that year – and in that year only – police changed the way they counted and reported crimes.
By 2009, the year Cayman’s crime went “out of control” according to many public statements by government leaders, there were 790 serious crimes reported. That’s one less serious crime than the 791 reported in 2010. So, what’s all this crime hubbub about then?
RCIPS Inspector Rudolph Gordon, the head of the local police officers association, said the issue is probably not with the sheer number of crimes occurring in the community. Mr. Gordon said it’s rather about the types of crime occurring; the types that usually tend to grab the attention of the general public. “The figures are what they are and we are proud of the hard work of our officers in achieving that,” Mr. Gordon said. “The truth is crime is, in a sense, perception and we are working hard in achieving a positive one.
“One sticky one for us right now is the robberies,” he said. “Burglaries happen when you’re not there; yes, you feel violated when you get back there but at least you don’t have somebody sticking a gun in your face.
“There’s no doubt the situation with the robberies has gone up alarmingly and that causes the most concern because its really violent, scary and its away from the norm that most people are used to here,” RCIPS Chief Superintendent John Jones said.
There has been a spectacular increase in high profile crimes in Cayman over the past two years.
For instance, there were 34 robberies reported to police in 2005. That figure stayed about the same until 2009, when 46 robberies were reported. In 2010, there were 64 robberies reported.
Murders – of which Cayman had averaged three per year for most of the decade – went to seven occurring in 2008, eight in 2009 and seven again in 2010. Similarly, there were 14 attempted murders in 2008, 13 in 2009 and 15 in 2010. In 2005 there were 10 attempted murders reported. In 2006, there were seven reported.
The major success for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service over the past five years, which has accounted for most of the fall off in serious crime, is a sharp reduction in burglaries. There were more than 901 burglaries that occurred in 2005, as the country tried to rebuild from September 2004’s Hurricane Ivan. By 2010, that number had fallen to 556 burglaries – the lowest in any of the last five years (excluding 2008, when a different crime counting system was used by police).
That means burglaries per 1,000 people decreased from 17 per 1,000 in 2005 to 10 per 1,000 in 2010.
While the overall crime rate and serious crime rates have fallen, major crimes – those that tend to be reported more often in the press – have rocketed upwards. Robberies went from about six per 10,000 people to nearly 12 per 10,000.
Statistically, Cayman Islands residents still have a much greater chance of falling victim to a burglary than a robbery in any case. But the impression created by the increase in crimes like robbery and murder is that Cayman just isn’t as safe.
There is one area where Cayman has seen a massive crime spike over the last five years, but it doesn’t often get reported: theft.
There were 775 thefts reported in 2010. For the first time in the last five years, the number of thefts actually exceeded the number of burglaries on the Islands. In 2005, the number of thefts reported to police was 493. In 2006, it dropped to 392 and climbed steadily over the next few years to peak last year.
There was a sizable increase in jewellery thefts reported in Cayman during the latter half of 2010, which police have indirectly blamed on the proliferation of pawn shops and cash-for-gold type businesses over the past year.
Royal Cayman Islands Police Commissioner David Baines said small electronic devices, like cell phones and laptops, are still considered a prime catch for thieves and burglars. But he said police are beginning to notice jewellery being swiped far more often in those cases.
“We have, over the past few months, recovered some stolen items from businesses, which specialise in buying and selling second-hand electrical equipment and jewellery,” Mr. Baines said earlier this year.
He wouldn’t name any of the stores involved and said, in many cases they might not even realise the property they are buying is hot.
“We’ve started to see significant amounts in value turning up within those stores,” he said.
In addition to the problem with jewellery being swiped, police noted that almost one quarter of the thefts reported in 2010 involved cell phones being taken.
But whether many of these cases are truly thefts is another matter. “We believe that this is more to do with insurance payouts than genuine thefts,” Mr. Baines said. “Our research has shown that some reports of theft may in fact be false reports and those reports could, in turn, be inflating the crime numbers.
“For example, if someone goes out for the night then reports later that their cell phone, diamond ring or jewellery is missing, they can’t claim on the items through their insurance unless they get a crime number.”
The commissioner said police would be introducing new procedures in 2011 in how they deal with stolen property reports. Those incidents will be listed as lost property unless there is clear evidence that a theft has taken place, Mr. Baines said.
Although the figures released only involved the first four months of the year, it does appear most crimes in Cayman are doing down since the start of 2011.
The country still continues to be plagued by a spate of robberies, however.
The Caymanian Compass previously reported, and police crime statistics for the early part of 2011 confirmed, a massive jump in the number of robberies since the beginning of the year – there were 27 through a 30 April, according to police stats, compared to 12 for the first four months of 2010.
Commissioner Baines has said there are many reasons for optimism, if the overall crime rate kept along the same trend in 2011.
In the first four months of 2011, overall crime has fallen by 36 per cent and serious crime dropped by 27 per cent.
Burglaries fell by 41 per cent during the four month period and aggravated burglaries fell by some 75 per cent, according to the figures.
“These figures confirm that the Cayman Islands is still one of the safest Caribbean destinations to live [in], work and visit,” said RCIPS Commissioner David Baines. “In this four-month period there have been hundreds fewer victims of crime than in the same period last year.”
Those figures are based on crime reports compiled by the RCIPS between 1 January, 2011, and 1 May, 2011, which are then compared to the same period of 2010.