Concern for tourism, business as armed robbers strike again
Business leaders have spoken of their “grave concern” about the impact of a rash of armed robberies on the island’s economy and tourism industry.
The latest raid on Wednesday night at Domino’s Pizza in Midtown Plaza in George Town was the fourth armed robbery in Grand Cayman since Monday. Two men, ages 28 and 29, were arrested about an hour after the heist, according to police.
Chris Duggan, president of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, said it was clear that armed criminals had switched from “big ticket” targets like banks and jewelry shops to “mom and pop” stores with less sophisticated security.
A grocery store, a video shop, a gas station and a bar were among the businesses hit by masked gunmen during the past week alone.
Mr. Duggan said the potential impact on small businesses, which he describes as the backbone of the economy, was enormous.
Businessman Harry Lalli, who owns the Treasure Island resort where armed robbers last month held up a staff member in the lobby, said people were worried.
“It is a very grave concern from a tourism industry perspective, especially when the crime has now found its way to the businesses on Seven Mile Beach. Any negative publicity will affect our product.
“In our case, it was right in the lobby with tourists and residents around.
“This is one of the absolute top concerns for our tourism product. Every island has a beach and a palm tree. The main thing that Cayman has is safety. That is our biggest seller. People come here because they know it is safe; if we lose that, it is going to really hurt.”
Both men said all businesses would have to review security in the light of recent robberies and said sophisticated closed-circuit television and crime prevention equipment were now becoming essential.
They were speaking as police, government officials and businesses gathered at the Westin resort to discuss crime prevention strategies.
Eric Bush, chief officer for the Ministry of Home Affairs, said the island’s economy was affected by escalating crime. He said the big sellers of “sun, sea and sand” were worth nothing without Cayman’s other great selling points – “safety and security.”
Mr. Bush, who is also in charge of the island’s CCTV program, said a network of cameras was already monitoring public areas, including busy roads and interchanges. He said the next phase of the CCTV project would have to be funded in partnership with the private sector.
His committee is also looking at providing support and guidelines to small businesses to ensure their security cameras are utilized properly. It is understood that many businesses still use old-fashioned cameras, which provide grainy images on tape that are often useless to investigators.
Mr. Bush said the committee could advise on the type of cameras required, as well as the positioning of those cameras to provide the best possible evidence to police when a crime is committed.
David Evans, of The Security Centre, said the business – which does security assessments for homes and businesses and sells equipment, including locks and alarms – was seeing a surge in demand for its services. He said several small businesses had contacted the company in the wake of recent robberies asking how to protect themselves from gun-wielding robbers.
He said simple inexpensive measures, such as controlling entry to the business at night, could be effective in deterring criminals.
“If you have a magnetic lock and the cashier lets people in through a buzzer, a simple thing like that can make a big difference. Any robber that tries the door and can’t get in, is probably going to move on.”
The company is also seeing demand for panic alarms which can alert the police quickly and quietly while a robbery is in progress, as well as high-definition CCTV cameras, special film to reinforce windows, and high security locks.
William Shagoury of the Clarendon Crime Prevention Committee in Jamaica and the keynote speaker at Thursday’s conference, said it was up to businesses to be vigilant and not be “soft targets.”
He said CCTV cameras should be used outside premises to catch images of robbers’ faces before they put masks on or to catch a vehicle license plate as they escaped.
One scheme used in Jamaica, he said, was a “business watch” initiative where small businesses pooled resources to fund security cameras, and police operated a special business line, helping them respond quickly to robberies.
Mr. Duggan said there was potential for the chamber to look at similar initiatives. But he said any effective measures needed community buy-in, which was in short supply for existing schemes like the chamber’s CrimeStoppers line.
“The police can’t do it alone and we shouldn’t expect them to,” he said. “The community has to mobilize to stop this.
“I hear a lot of people on blogs and talkshows complaining about crime, but I could count the number of calls that CrimeStoppers gets on one hand.
“We know there are people out there who know and see crime happening and they can do something about it by making an anonymous call.”