A shortage of Royal Cayman Islands Police Service officers is contributing to a decline in the number of arrests for offences like speeding and drink driving, according to top police officials.
RCIPS Chief Superintendent John Jones said Thursday the department was about “50 officers light”, mostly at the lowest rank within the service, police constables, which was stretching the service’s resources. According to an audit Mr. Jones completed two weeks ago, there were 325 total officers.
Judging from its current budget, the RCIPS believes it should have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 386 police officers, not including auxiliary constables, special constables or civilian support staff.
“The main focus of the RCIPS within the last couple of years has been reducing crime … a lot of efforts were directed toward [solving] robberies,” Mr. Jones said. “It’s no secret that we’ve been under strength. Consistently over the last few years we’ve been in the region of 50 officers short.”
According to traffic statistics put out by the police service last week, the total number of driving offences that occurred in 2011 dropped by half when compared with 2010 – going from 8,888 offences recorded in 2010 to 4,429 offences in 2011. During the same period, speeding offences dropped by more than 50 per cent, DUI’s by 13 per cent and seat belt offences by 71 per cent.
Chief Superintendent Jones said people shouldn’t interpret the drop off to mean driving has suddenly become safer in the Cayman Islands.
“It’s no reflection of the fact that we believe all of sudden drivers have gotten the message,” Mr. Jones said.
In late 2011, the RCIPS was given an additional $4.6 million, mainly to assist with police staffing efforts, according to Premier McKeeva Bush.
Mr. Jones said, after receiving the funds, RCIPS went “hell for leather” on recruiting efforts, but bringing new people into the department has been “sometimes tortuous”, according to the chief superintendent.
First, the department must advertise the positions, then interview potential candidates, perform background checks and gauge each individual’s desire and ability to join the RCIPS.
“Many times applicants will look at it with rose-coloured glasses at first, but then they find out some difficulties – their spouses may not be able to find employment here, they have to pay to send their kids to school – and they pull out at the 11th hour,” he said.
Not everyone makes it through the 12-week training academy held for local officer applicants either, Mr. Jones said. Also, departments from which the Cayman Islands are trying to recruit may be “less than helpful” at times, because they don’t want to lose their staff.
The department also has to vet potential candidates, a process that is not always handled by the police service internally and that takes time.
“We can’t shortcut that,” he said.
A decision made in 2010 to reorganise the RCIPS Traffic Management Unit has also been blamed by certain sectors within the police service for the drop off in arrests for road offences.
Basically, the police department began requiring most police constables to respond to traffic incidents, rather than have a specialist group of officers do so. There are still certain incidents where specialist investigators or accident reconstruction experts have to be called in. But Mr. Jones said it doesn’t take any special skills to investigate a fender bender or pull someone over for speeding.
“You can’t afford to be siloed,” he said, referring to the bureaucratic practise of over-compartmentalising certain job functions. “There’s no reason every cop can’t respond to an incident with a busted tail-light.”
In the future, Mr. Jones said he’d like to see the department move forward with more concentrated efforts to focus on identified ‘problem areas’ for traffic.
“I’ve never been in favour of persecuting motorists just to keep stats up,” he said. “Traffic enforcement is still a priority for RCIPS, but I don’t think we get any thanks from members of the public for running roadblocks.”
The chief superintendent also said he thinks a more coordinated effort between the police, National Roads Authority and citizen volunteer groups, such as the Cayman Islands Road Safety Advisory Council, as well as government ministries is needed to address the full scale of Cayman’s traffic problems. He said issues like driver training and education, road engineering and public awareness can’t all be done by just the police.
“We cannot – pardon the pun – take our foot off the pedal in relation to traffic,” Mr. Jones said. “Enforcement alone is not going to solve it.”