Editorial for 08 July: 'Crime creep': Let's stop it right now

Two news stories on the front page of the
Caymanian Compass last week – one about an air-conditioner heist in George Town, the other about the demolition of a derelict building in Bodden Town – on
first reading might appear unrelated, however they are umbilically connected.

The theft of 32 air-conditioners from
Cayman Contractors on Crewe Road was brazen in its execution. Owner Mark
Hennings reported that the thieves carried out their crime with nonchalance,
packing up their truck, driving off, and returning to the scene to repack for
another haul – three trips over a three-hour period. Many witnesses stood by
and watched. No one called the police.

In the other incident, Dinah Powell and her
neighbours had reason to cheer as her husband’s family home on Manse Road was
finally razed after being rendered uninhabitable post Hurricane Ivan. In recent
years, the eyesore had become a haven for drug users and other undesirable

Now the question: If Mrs. Powell and all of
her neighbours were aware of the illegal activities taking place in the house,
why didn’t they call the police – and, if they did call the police, why didn’t
the police take any meaningful action? Likewise, one can take a casual cruise
through the streets of West Bay (and 
other districts as well), and witness drugs being sold and consumed in
plain sight.

Knowledge of these illegal activities is
widespread – neighbours (and district politicians) know who the dealers are,
who the users are, where the drug transactions are taking place, and even the
location of so-called “crack houses”.

What we seem to be witnessing in Cayman is
a growing, and troubling, tolerance of intolerable behaviour. Police
Commissioner David Baines calls it the “drip-drip” effect of lawlessness. The
boundaries of “acceptable crime” are expanding – we’ll call it “crime creep” –
and the victims are the good people, the law-abiding residents, of these

In the early 1990s, newly elected New York
City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his Police Commissioner Bill Bratton encountered
first-hand the escalation of crime and the deterioration of respect for law and
order in their city. They embarked on an approach which became known, famously,
as the “broken windows” strategy (based on the research of criminologists James
Q. Wilson and George Kelling).

The idea was that police would crack down
on seemingly minor offences, e.g., city code violations such as broken windows,
aggressive panhandling, or threatening “squeegee men” at stoplights. The theory
was that by establishing a no-tolerance approach toward seemingly minor crimes,
more serious crimes would also be deterred.

While academics to this day debate the
efficacy of Giuliani’s “broken windows” approach, what is not debatable is that
all crime fell precipitously in New York following its implementation.

Because of our tourism industry, Cayman,
even more than New York, relies on our maintaining not just the appearance of
safety and security but the reality as well.

Our visitors expect, and our residents
deserve, an adherence to law and order, peace and tranquillity. Put another
way, it’s time to stop “crime creep” in its tracks.