Former Royal Cayman Islands Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan would have been proud.
The oft-lambasted RCIPS helicopter, which Mr. Kernohan struggled for two years to ship in from the United Kingdom amid numerous bureaucratic delays, was lauded by Premier Alden McLaughlin last week in the high-profile captures of several criminal suspects.
It was just more than a year ago that then-Premier McKeeva Bush proposed the sale of the 1999 Eurocopter model chopper, which cost the Cayman Islands $1.8 million to purchase, and between $1.1 million to $1.7 million a year to operate. The police service was caught unaware by that announcement and later said it has never attempted to sell the aircraft.
In one incident last week, the helicopter was used to track four robbery suspects who hit Chisholm’s grocery on Monday afternoon in North Side. About 20 minutes after the heist, the men were arrested near the intersection of Sea View and High Rock roads. This was after the RCIPS helicopter crew spotted a gray hatchback vehicle driving along Frank Sound Road and kept tabs on it while updating police patrol vehicles on the ground.
In a separate incident the previous week, the helicopter was used to track another vehicle taken during a carjacking – eliminating the need for police patrol units to pursue the car through traffic.
“Because we have a professionally run air operations unit that was able to respond so quickly, officers pursuing by car were able to back off the chase and hand over the pursuit to the helicopter, thus reducing the risk to our community whilst capturing the suspect,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
The helicopter is just one example of the higher-end resources the territory needs to maintain in a 21st century world, said Premier McLaughlin, who as minister for home affairs has oversight responsibility for the police budget.
“The criminal element continues to change its modus operandi in ways that reap rewards for it,” the premier said. “When there is a concerted effort to increase surveillance as a deterrent to robberies, for instance, the criminals shift their focus away from businesses that can afford this equipment to smaller operators who either cannot afford the camera systems or who they believe travel home with the day’s takings and are vulnerable to attack.
“We have stepped [up] our game to ensure that technology and specialized equipment fill the evidence gap which so often exists when we try to detect and prosecute serious crimes – especially gun related crimes.”
Other more old-fashioned policing methods are not being neglected by RCIPS, the premier said.
“The police have spent significant resources on training to improve the skill sets of officers in key areas such as report-writing and evidence-gathering,” he said.
“The recent spate of armed robberies is a matter of gravest concern for the government and for me personally. Although the use of guns to commit crimes is becoming far too common … we cannot and must not concede that this is an inevitable by-product of progress in a growing nation. We must aim to stamp it out, do more to stem the inflow of unlicensed firearms to Cayman and create an environment in which all criminals believe that they will be caught if they commit offenses and that they will be put away for a very long time.”