Legislators hold line on police funding

Baines: Cayman crime in ‘four-year cycle’

Proposals to add $1.3 million for more police officers were turned down in the Legislative Assembly Friday evening, as Cayman’s police commissioner drew criticism from a lawmaker who declared that the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service’s crime-fighting strategies weren’t working.

“The public has no trust, no faith and doesn’t want to work with the police,” said West Bay MLA Bernie Bush. “I can’t do [the police commissioner’s] job, but I am sure, to solve crimes, some of the information has to be gotten from people on the street. If I feel antagonized, if I feel like I don’t like you, what makes you think I am going to give you information?

“Whatever’s being done, it’s obvious it isn’t working.”

Commissioner Baines, who returned early from a previously planned holiday to testify in the LA’s finance committee, challenged Mr. Bush’s statements.

“We’re not at the best of times because we’re coming out from a three-year crime reduction,” Mr. Baines said. “You will see a four-year cycle that goes with crime, where you see things rising and then it stops.”

The commissioner said an examination of crime statistics from 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000 in Cayman showed that every four years crimes tended to peak, usually because of certain criminals being released from prison and re-offending.

Mr. Baines also told finance committee members that while burglaries had risen in Cayman this year, his colleagues in the RCIPS were aware that, not too long ago, it was common for the Cayman Islands to see more than 900 break-ins in a single year.

He referenced one case of a young man arrested this month who had been committing burglaries since he was in his early teens.

Mr. Baines said there had been no efforts to prevent the young man from engaging in a life of crime and no attempts to rehabilitate him after he was caught.

“If you don’t have prevention and you don’t have rehabilitation, you’re going to get us [the police] – enforcement only,” Mr. Baines said.

Mr. Bush, in contrast, referenced a recent case where a young man, a pilot, was returning home from an assignment at 3 a.m. and was pulled over by a police officer for a broken taillight.

“That person no longer likes the police,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Baines said he understood that young pilot’s frustration at being stopped and said that police are allowed to use their discretion in enforcement.

“Sadly, not all of us have those skills,” he said.

However, the commissioner also pointed out a case of mixed messages from the Legislative Assembly.

“Members of this house have been demanding further traffic enforcement, greater productivity of officers, the creation of fixed penalty notices to put money into the coffers,” he said.

$1.3 million

Although the overall police budget has been reduced by $262,000 from the previous government budget year, MLAs pointed out that the main line item – protection and investigative services – was slashed by $1.29 million.

North Side MLA Ezzard Miller sought support from the government bench for a motion that would increase the line item for police protection and investigative services by the same $1.29 million. In return for this increase, Mr. Miller proposed that 12 police officers be hired – six for Bodden Town district, three for North Side district and three for East End district.

“I don’t want to be involved in policing, I just want some police,” Mr. Miller said.

The RCIPS eastern districts commander, Chief Inspector Brad Ebanks, said recently that his daily staffing levels at the Bodden Town police station equated to five officers per shift.

Commissioner Baines gave the finance committee figures for total dedicated police staff in each district: 77 officers in George Town, 32 in West Bay, 31 to cover Bodden Town, East End and North Side, 12 on Cayman Brac and two officers in Little Cayman.

Mr. Baines said he was not opposed to focusing new police officers in the eastern districts, as long as they could be called away if the situation warranted.

“The operational deployment of any officer has to be at my sole discretion because I hold the responsibility,” he said.

Committee chairman and finance minister Marco Archer pointed out that the government had no authority to simply increase its overall budget for the year.

“We would be in breach of the medium term fiscal strategy as approved by the [U.K.] Foreign and Commonwealth Office,” Mr. Archer said.

Moreover, Premier Alden McLaughlin said his government is working on a long-term strategy for crime and policing that could be put astray by snap decision-making.

“We cannot go about dealing with a major national problem by taking off-the-cuff decisions in finance committee,” the premier said. “It needs much greater consideration.”

East End MLA Arden McLean said he’d heard statements of this sort before in previous finance committees and had lost patience with them.

“Instead of cutting back, let us find the money elsewhere,” Mr. McLean said. “I am on my knees to my colleagues.”

Bodden Town MLA Osbourne Bodden called Mr. McLean’s statements an attempt at a “power play.” Premier McLaughlin rejected Mr. Miller and Mr. McLean’s proposals outright.

“This is an issue we intend to address in the coming weeks,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “We are not going to be bulldozed into making new budget allocations in the middle of finance committee without regard to the broader issues and the consequences of doing so.”

Mr. McLaughlin found unusual support in his stance from Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush. “The premier says he’ll find a way forward,” Mr. Bush said. “I’m willing to put my support with him at this time on that issue.”

“Thank you very much, sir,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

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