Minister: Coe Wood may need security guards
Reports of assaults and disruptions on the beach, portable restrooms being used for prostitution and alleged drug deals going down in the open have disturbed the long-standing tranquillity of Bodden Town’s Coe Wood Public Beach, the Caymanian Compass has learned.
In recent weeks, the issue of loitering, drunkenness and unlawful behaviour from people hanging out on the beach has been raised in several meetings as residents beg police to find a way to keep these individuals in check. It has gotten so bad that Health Minister and Bodden Town representative Osbourne Bodden has broached the possibility of government paying security guards to staff the beach in Grand Cayman during the evenings.
“Perhaps the Royal Cayman Islands Police could be asked to enforce the loitering laws and, if this isn’t done, the government would be forced to employ security guards during the day and into the evenings,” Mr. Bodden said. “We must be careful that the loiterers are clearly identified from proper users of the beach. We have to make Bodden Town attractive to all and this is one step in that direction. We need to make sure we create jobs and opportunities for our people, that they don’t have to sit around each day to simply drink and hang out.”
Mr. Bodden has a personal interest in the issue as his gas station, liquor store and mini-restaurant Grape Tree Café are located in the area where the nighttime disturbances keep happening.
Twyla Vargas is among the local residents concerned about what’s going on in the typically docile centre of Bodden Town.
“There is no fruitful activity taking place at the beach and every straggler from around the island has taken up residence on Coe Wood Beach,” Ms Vargas said. “There is a lot more that the police can do, but it would seem like they are turning a blind eye to what goes on there.
“At first the beach was very nice. There was a group of older men that would go there to relax and play a game of dominoes,” she said. “Now other individuals with no good agendas in mind have taken over. The beach is not a nice place to visit any more and I do not feel comfortable going there as these persons hang out there any time of day or night. There is a loitering law which the police need to put into effect.”
Nearby, Turtle Nest Inn hotel owner Alain Beiner paints a different picture. “The people hanging out at the beach [have] not been a problem to us; the Jet Skis are more of a problem,” Mr. Beiner said. “We have not heard any complaints from any of our guests of being harassed or [feeling] unsafe.”
Residents became concerned recently when Coe Wood Beach made Caymanian Compass headlines. In that story, two men boarded a public bus at Coe Wood and robbed the driver when the vehicle pulled into the George Town bus depot.
According to reports in a separate incident, a woman was hit with a beer bottle, causing police in riot gear, the police helicopter and an ambulance crew to descend on the beach as passersby and residents looked on in astonishment.
The woman who was attacked, Maria Haven, said she no longer visits Coe Wood Beach because she fears for her life.
“It’s not good what is happening out there,” Ms Haven said. “Quite a number of people have gotten hurt out there, but they do not report it to the police.
RCIPS Chief Inspector Chritsandra Mitchell confirmed Coe Wood Beach continues to be an area of concern.
“There is the usual [congregation] of males having drinks purchased from the liquor store just next door, which they take to the beach,” Chief Inspector Mitchell said. “Repeated disruptive operations by the police have been used to disperse the group, which is usually between eight to 12 men seen drinking and socialising.”
Ms Mitchell said the beach is patrolled frequently by the RCIPS Uniform [armed] and Operational Support Groups collectively. However, the police disruption is temporary and shortly after officers leave, the men soon regroup. She has requested that all illegal activity and anti-social behaviour observed be reported to the police.
Minister Bodden, who himself has gotten into a physical dispute with an individual who was hanging out on the beach and who he accused of disrupting business at his liquor store, has spoken out about the nuisance of beach bums and drug dealers on Coe Wood Beach. Mr. Bodden noted that the previous government spent quite a bit of money installing improvements to the beach area and said he doesn’t want that to go for naught. “It is sad that our new facilities on Coe Wood Beach are being used for unpleasant activities as it serves as a deterrent to potential users of the beach,” he said. “We all know the guys who do this – they are not bad people and they don’t really harass people, but the truth is the perception by others is not good. It is time we deal with it.”
Coe Wood Beach was first earmarked for redevelopment as part of the Go-East initiative put in place by the People’s Progressive Movement government of 2005-2009, spearheaded by then-Tourism Minister Charles Clifford.
Former Cabinet minister and Bodden Town legislator Mark Scotland sent the plan back to the drawing board before work on a new boat ramp, dredging of the foreshore and other upgrades took place. A set of cabanas has been built on the beach, which were to be used as outlets for residents wanted to peddle their wares. However, since they’ve been built, they have been padlocked until government determines a use for them.