The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service’s chief of operations said this week the department is still down officers from its peak number of a few years ago.
According to records reviewed by the Caymanian Compass, the RCIPS had 365 officers in mid-2007. Since then, staffing numbers have fallen – particularly in the areas of routine street patrols and the department’s neighbourhood policing programme.
“Obviously, it is difficult and it’s not only for ‘feet on the beat’ but the resources that we need,” said Chief Superintendent John Jones on Monday. “We’re not asking for growth, we’re saying give us what we should have … particularly in areas like neighbourhood policing where we’ve had to reduce resources to service the 24-hour policing. That’s not an ideal situation.”
The officer shortage has changed the way police operations are handled. Mr. Jones said officers have had to prioritise the investigation of certain crimes.
However, he said these decisions on crime priorities do not mean local police “closed the book” on robberies and especially bank robberies that have plagued the Islands since the latter half of 2010.
“This is a very small police department that deals with quite a lot of serious crime,” Mr. Jones said. “The book’s not closed on the bank robberies, I would suggest that the book’s not closed on the other robberies we’ve had either.”
Although the police service budget does show some funding increases between the government’s previous and current budget year, the full levels of funding that existed prior to 2009 have never been achieved, according to the government’s annual plan and estimates.
In the 2009/10 budget year, the ‘police services’ allotment, including patrols, community events, developing neighbourhood watches and the like, was estimated at $16.5 million. Estimates for the year ending 30 June, 2011, put that expenditure at $12.7 million.
The 2011/12 spending, that’s the government’s current budget year, seeks to restore some of that funding, to just more than $15 million. However, that is still less than existed in the 2009/10 budget.
The upcoming budget calls for an increase in patrols of between 13,000 and 14,000 hours for the year, or between 250 and 270 extra hours per week. Officers are also budgeted to spend more time at community events, school programmes and assisting victims.
Less money has been budgeted for police security services, which include personal security for government members, security for law courts, security for official delegates and security for money transfers.
That budget has been reduced from an estimated $2.2 million in the current year, to $1.76 million in the new spending plan, a drop of about $440,000.
The police budget allotment for investigating and detecting crime has also been partially restored from a $500,000 cut it received in the 2010/11 budget. Lawmakers propose to add about $120,000 to that service in the upcoming year.
Chief Superintendent Jones admitted it has been a struggle to keep the RCIPS criminal investigation department fully up to staff, partly due to recruiting issues.
“One of the necessary frustrations is the length of time it takes to get people in the organisation,” Mr. Jones said, adding that police recruits from outside of Cayman must undergo extensive criminal background checks to ensure that they have “no skeletons in the cupboard”.
“We were recruiting against shortages … in the beginning of 2010,” Mr. Jones said. “We’re in a healthier situation than we were in, in terms of detectives than we were in 2010.”
Police have also not had to deal with a significant number of killings, similar to what was seen in the Cayman Islands during 2009 and 2010, which put a strain on the detective bureau.
However, two major missing person’s cases – neither of which have been resolved – have put significant strain on the service, Mr. Jones said.
“We treated [both the Anna Evans and Kerran Baker disappearance] in exactly the same way,” he said. “We deployed the same staff and resources.”
Police have also been inundated with reports of armed robberies. But overall crime numbers have fallen steadily since the start of the year, mostly due to a reduction in burglaries which are the most frequently reported serious crime in Cayman.
RCIPS also doesn’t have much of a budget for construction projects or new equipment.
There aren’t many major police projects in the upcoming budget, but one major accomplishment – expected to occur by September – is the completion of the marine base in Newlands. Construction started in 2007 and some $500,000 remains to be spent to wrap things up.
An additional $800,000 is budgeted for the installation of Cayman’s first closed-circuit television public monitoring system. Cameras are being installed in the George Town area in recent weeks.