Gang tensions are still simmering beneath the surface on the streets of Grand Cayman nearly two years after a series of tit-for-tat murders rocked the island.
There has been a fragile peace between warring gangs since the September 2011 shooting of Asher McGaw in East End brought to an end a spiral of violence that left five young men dead in nine days. But Police Commissioner David Baines insisted his officers were not complacent about the threat. He said they were dealing with tensions on the streets on a weekly basis and acknowledged the underlying problem had not gone away.
He said: “It is still on our agenda, every week we talk about risk assessment. We look at individuals coming out of prison because one or two individuals can suddenly put the tension up.
“I use the word toxic because that is what they are. They take what is a tolerance between gang members and you suddenly get an escalation. The guns come out, the shootings start and once one is killed there is almost a blood code that needs addressing – if you kill one of ours we have got to kill one of yours.”
His comments came immediately before a seminar on gang violence aimed at raising awareness of Cayman’s gang culture among professionals who work with young people. The seminar featured visiting experts, including one from a small aboriginal Canadian community facing staggering issues with guns and gangs.
The sessions at the Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa on Tuesday focused on how teachers, social workers and police can better coordinate to prevent young people being dragged into a life of crime. The initiative is part of a wider effort to understand the causes of gang crime, share information between agencies and intervene early in the lives of troubled youngsters – one of the key recommendations of a review of the Cayman Islands’ capabilities in dealing with gang crime compiled by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the wake of the 2011 killings.
Mr. Baines said police could not simply “arrest our way out of this” and acknowledged there were warning signs in all five cases of the men murdered in 2011. All five were products of the alternative education system, having been expelled from mainstream schools, he said.
“The signs were there had we been alive to them.”
He said one of the victims was born from a gang rape, meaning his first experience in life sprang from a brutal crime. Others had shown clear signs of behavioural issues in school. These are the kind of risk factors that teachers and social workers now look towards as they attempt to prevent similarly vulnerable youngsters going down the same road.
“Hindsight is great, but actually now it is about education – social services, teachers, youth workers taking that knowledge and doing something with it,” Mr. Baines said. “There is an opportunity to reach out, prevent, interrupt or deviate people away from gang activity. If we are alive to it and we know about it we can do something.”
Tuesday’s seminar, which was not open to the media, featured a talk from Michael Myles, the Cayman Islands’ government’s at-risk youth coordinator, who is one of the leading figures in the new multi-agency approach to preventing gang crime before it starts. He was scheduled to talk about the problems with the alternative education system, which Mr. Baines said had functioned as a “hot house” for young, like-minded individuals, with little stake in society, to escalate their criminal behaviour.
Also speaking at the event was a visiting expert from a small Canadian aboriginal community, Inspector Charles Wood of Hobbema division of the Alberta police force, and an expert on US gangs, Detective Marc Wilder, from the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office in Tampa.
Mr. Baines said Cayman’s gang culture drew inspiration from US movies and television but more closely resembled the aboriginal communities in population size and the importance of family connections. He said some communities in Canada, with populations as small as 15,000, suffered up to nine murders a year, with as many as 4,000 people arrested annually.