More than a dozen North Siders attended the final community meeting on Tuesday, 12 July, hosted by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service on Grand Cayman before the panel left for the Sister Islands.
One of the most well-attended meetings in the series so far, the audience included North Side MLA Ezzard Miller and former MLA Edna Moyle.
Several issues touched on at previous district meetings – such as truancy and youth development – were discussed, but gun crime, firearm safety and gang violence were the main topics of concern.
The panel included Chief Inspector Martin Bodden, Detective Superintendent Kurt Walton and At Risk Coordinator for the Department of Education Michael Myles.
Gun crime and safety
The responsibility of legal firearm owners to keep their weapons secure was a concern to both the attendees and the RCIPS panel.
“We see instances where licensed weapons fell in the hands of unauthorised persons who used them to commit offenses and it’s all because the licensed firearm owner did not secure that firearm sufficiently,” said Mr. Bodden.
Mr. Walton made the point that legal weapons can be harmful if they end up in the wrong hands.
“How would you feel if you hadn’t properly secured… your licensed weapon and someone broke into your house, stole that weapon and committed crimes, killed someone, and it turned out it was your firearm?” Mr. Walton said. “Because of your inability to secure your firearm, now someone’s paid with his life.”
While both Mr. Bodden and Mr. Walton acknowledged that even properly secured firearms could potentially be accessed by criminals, audience member Stanley Panton suggested that laws be passed to ensure negligent gun owners whose weapons end up being used to commit crimes are sanctioned.
Mr. Miller expressed concern about how individuals could protect themselves if their firearms had to be kept locked up.
“I have a licensed firearm, and this firearm is to protect myself,” he said. “Do you expect me to keep my firearm locked [up] 24/7?”
Mr. Walton and Mr. Bodden encouraged him to keep his gun secure at all times.
The community was also concerned that the RCIPS did not have sufficient resources to combat gun crime.
While Mr. Walton acknowledged that the RCIPS is short of staff by approximately 30 people, he said officers were increasingly being trained to use firearms.
“I think it’s fair to say 30 per cent of the actual police service have actually had proper firearm training,” Mr. Walton said. “In fact, this year alone we finished qualifying another 20 officers.”
Another major concern among community members was the percentage of resources allocated to the Eastern districts.
“You use North Side and East End… to justify more resources, but then East End and North Side don’t get any,’ said Mr. Miller. “North Side is still, compared to West Bay and George Town, relatively crime-free.. but we need resources to hold keep it that way. We’ve got the $200,000 police station that is empty. “
Mr. Miller said having officers man these stations and live within the community would encourage a respectful relationship between the district and the RCIPS.
Illegal gun trade
Questions then turned to illegal weapons, with North Siders asking Mr. Bodden and Mr. Walton where unlicensed firearms come from, how they are imported and why people use them in crimes.
Mr. Walton said guns frequently come in on canoes from Jamaica, commercial fishing vessels from South and Central America, and hidden in shipping containers from the United States.
To prevent firearms being smuggled through the port in containers, Mr. Walton said the Customs Department was in the process of procuring an X-ray that would enable them to inspect unopened containers before they left the port.