Police watchful over gang tensions

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. 

baines,westin

Commissioner David Baines.
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5 COMMENTS

  1. My suggestions would be to have a closer watch on what is coming into the island, and from where. We should also watch carefully who are clearing items. You do not have a clothing business, how come you are getting boxed of clothing every week. You do not have a restaurant but you are importing seafood every week. Observation is the key. Not enough is being done.
    Police need to continue to stop suspicious cars after 8.30 am in the morning with three men in them. Not working but jolly riding. You not on the job by 8.30 then where are you going?
    Give these young men jobs. They need something to do. Offer them a future. It is the responsibility of every citizen who lives here and has a business to ensure they do their part; because what will happen is that you will either get robbed of your children or grand children will get involved with the gangs sooner or later. No matter how good you train them they can fall. The first bank robbery was done by a Pastors two sons, Frank and Jessie James.
    So none of us are above these things happening to us. Just do your part in making the community safe. Report suspicious activities around your neighbor and always give the biggest smile and best advice and encouragement to a young person. They will remember you for it.

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  2. ok.. so they are watching for gangs, but my take is, who is watching the commissioner of police and the agencies that will have them under survelliance?

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  3. Mr. Baines said Cayman’s gang culture drew inspiration from US movies and television…

    And the gang culture, personnell and resources in our next door neighbour…Jamaica.

    Any programme that does not include this factor is doomed for failure, regardless of how unpleasant that reality is to accept.

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  4. In June 2011 I posted an item on my blog passing on the suggestion of two friends of mine, that an Island Watch program be established in Cayman. The proposal was for cellphones to be used by the general public to report crimes in progress to a communications base (NOT the present 9-1-1) that would relay the message to everybody in Cayman pretty much instantaneously.

    Some basic legal obstacles would have to be overcome before the idea were put into practice, and the actual implementation would take a lot of effort. Still, it might work, and I’m disappointed by the lack of interest. These two years later, perhaps the concept should be looked at again.

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