Editorial for August 29: Why should the RCIPS keep some crimes quiet?

Horrific tales such as the story of the robbery of a Savannah home on the front page of today’s newspaper almost always find their way into the public domain – usually through the news media but, sometimes, even quicker via Cayman’s so-called “Marl Road.”

What may surprise our readers, however, is that much of the crime in the Cayman Islands is never reported – by us or anyone else – because the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service does not make these crimes public.

We became sensitized to this issue when we learned recently of a rash of burglaries in the Seven Mile Beach area, including the Buckingham Square shopping center where a number of retail outlets have been broken into. We discovered this information by chance. The RCIPS never shared it with us and, by proxy, you.

Our view is that when highly visible public places such as Buckingham Square, situated in the heart of Cayman’s most-popular tourist district, are beset by burglars, that’s news that is in the public’s interest to know. It’s not even a close call.

Commissioner Baines sees it differently. He makes the point that his department is in the business of investigating crime, while the Compass is in the business of reporting it – and sometimes those interests diverge.

In a statement to the Compass, Commissioner Baines wrote: “I appreciate the media’s appetite for access to all crime information. You will appreciate the police are in a very different business other than providing an interesting story.

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“The decision as to what information is released to the media, and when, is made by the Senior Investigating Officer after taking in a number of factors,” which he enumerated as whether the release of information would prejudice an ongoing investigation or subsequent trial, the willingness of a victim to publicize the incident and the need to protect vulnerable witnesses, among others.

Regarding the Buckingham Square burglaries specifically, Commissioner Baines asked, “Distressing as that case is, is it more newsworthy than a person’s home being violated and the sense of insecurity the householder is left with?”

To that we would answer, “Absolutely not.”

Burglaries, we believe, are being downgraded in their importance in the community in part because of the sheer number of them. In the first six months of 2013, for example, 262 burglaries were reported – very few of them made known to the media.

In fact, burglaries have become so commonplace here that it is tempting to treat them as “every day minor offenses,” such as jaywalking. They are nothing of the sort.

We believe Commissioner Baines would agree with Magistrate Valdis Foldats, as we do, when he talked earlier this month about the “unimaginable” fear suffered by victims of burglaries. It’s terrifying for an individual to know his house has been burgled,” he said. “It destroys any sense of peaceful occupation of his home.”

For a community or neighborhood to combat crime, or aid the police in bringing forth witnesses or otherwise cooperating with the authorities, it must first know that crimes are being committed.

In that regard, the police department should know that silence is not the best policy.

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  1. Whilst appreciating that he has a tough, and often thankless, job I always find these reports about Commissioner Baines uneasy relationship with the media rather curious.

    In my days as Net News crime reporter we had, despite the best efforts of my employer to spoil things at times, very good lines of communication with RCIPS. The Commissioner, Stuart Kernohan, and his press officer, not only kept us informed but there was mutual respect of the understanding that some things discussed were off the record and not for publication so we were very rarely kept in the dark about on-going investigations.

    There is a also an interesting contrast here with the way things work in the UK. Where I live now the police send out weekly crime figures and crime prevention advice to the general public by email. When I was working in the UK a reporter would visit the local police station every weekday around 9am and sit down with a senior officer to discuss what was going on. This interaction was mutually beneficial and in more than one case resulted in a story that led to the offender being identified.

    As this editorial points out, sooner or later the media will get the story and it is always much better if it comes through official channels. The problem with the current policy is that it begs the question – what else are RCIPS keeping secret?

  2. We all need to bear in mind that the policing of Cayman is done according to the rules and principles laid down by the FCO. As Mr Baines says, … the police are in a very different business than providing an interesting story.

    All RCIP Commissioners in recent times have scoffed at all proposals that they keep the public informed. Without a change of heart by London, and direct orders from there, the present policy is not going to change. So there is no point in chastising Mr Baines.

    He is a pleasant fellow, and is presumably doing a fair job. We (the public) will never know for sure, but it’s really out of our hands. Part of being a colony is accepting that Mother knows best.

    Our local crime-scares come and go, don’t they? Checking my blog archive this morning I found five postings on the topic of local crime in just a few months in 2011, only one in 2012,and none at all this year. In July 2011 alone I wrote Thief-takers and Crime Czar, and the month before, Island Watch. That last one was suggested by a friend of mine, for an Island-wide crime-reporting program using cell-phones. Sadly, the proposal has been ignored by the authorities. …

    So. We’re on our own, pretty much. Better stock up on the wasp-spray and bleach, eh?