Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Commissioner David Baines told the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee this week that there is no different treatment when it comes to discipline or criminal action taken by the department against Caymanian and foreign-born police officers.
Mr. Baines’ comments came in response to a question asked by George Town MLA Ellio Solomon regarding different treatment.
“There is no bias based on whether it is local or expat – there is one application, there is one standard,” Mr. Baines said. “Circumstances differ.”
Without being prompted, Mr. Baines then made reference to an incident that occurred in mid-February that involved a dispute between police officers outside the George Town courthouse.
“Some of you will be aware, and without going into specifics, I read of a given story in the media recently of a supposed assault taken place that’s investigated,” Mr. Baines said. “Certainly, from the nature of it, no assault has taken place, even though there is somebody suggesting it has taken place and yet it has hit the media, its hit the blogs.
“There has been an exaggeration, dare I say it has been exaggerated on the marl road, exaggerated sufficiently for it to hit the media. So, therefore, I go back to the point, we have allegations and the allegations set a course of action in train and when those allegations turn evidence and provide factual information upon which I can make a judgement, as to whether that person should be suspended or reported for criminal charges, I do that. I can give you my assurance that there is no preference or bias given to local or expats.”
The incident Mr. Baines referred to was reported in the Caymanian Compass on 2 March. The story included quotes from a police spokesperson about the bust up that occurred between RCIPS officers
“There is no suggestion that an assault took place,” said RCIPS spokesperson Janet Dougall, responding to Caymanian Compass questions about the matter.
Police declined to identify either officer involved in the “dispute”, but the Compass understands one was a senior ranking officer.
“As the matter is subject of an investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further or identify any of the officers allegedly involved,” Mrs. Dougall said.
According to the police, the incident is still being investigated and officers declined to speak further about it.
The Compass asked for clarification regarding what media reports Mr. Baines was referring to that had classified the mid-February incident as an assault. No response had been received by press time.
Although the police officers representative group has not spoken publicly of the issue with regard to police disciplinary matters, representatives of the police association have long expressed concern about a perceived lack of advancement opportunity for Caymanian officers within the police service.
Police Association Chairman Rudolph Gordon said earlier this month the RCIPS appears to be trending back toward hiring more foreign-born officers, particularly in specialist positions where the training and expertise simply doesn’t exist in the Cayman Islands. A review of the RCIPS last year also found that 48 per cent of the service’s officers were Caymanian and 52 per cent were non-Caymanian. Civilian employees within the police service were split about 69 per cent Caymanian to 31 per cent non-Caymanian.
Another police association board member, Sergeant Winsome Prendergast, said she thinks most new hires, made following a $4.6 million funding injection to the department last year were from overseas.
“The majority of officers coming in are from the UK,” Ms Prendergast said.
Part of the problem within the police service is that Caymanian officers often feel they aren’t given a chance to rise up through the ranks, at least not all the way, association members said.
“We see the other day where the current deputy governor is supporting succession planning … where he’s using [chief officers] to act as deputy governor [in his absence],” Mr. Gordon said. “We feel the same action should be taken within the RCIPS, because we haven’t seen that and I can’t understand why.
“You will have officers leaving the RCIPS and advance in other sectors, whether it’s private or public sector,” he said. “For example, the head of the licensing department is an ex-police inspector, his deputy is an ex-police officer. The director for the transport board is an ex-police inspector, Eric Bush is the chief officer of Internal and External Affairs; he left the organisation as a sergeant. Even [Deputy Governor Franz] Manderson, he worked his way all the way up through the Immigration Department.”
Hiring in general within the RCIPS has been slow going, despite a recent budget boost, according to department officials.
RCIPS Chief Superintendent John Jones said recently that 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, the RCIPS had 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, Mr. Jones said.
The department is required to advertise 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, he said 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.
Compass journalist Norma Connolly contributed to this report.