Police can protect and serve – but not prevent

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service is drawing a disproportionate amount of blame for the perceived increase in crimes against people and property in recent months.

We say “perceived increase” because, in the absence of current and comprehensive statistics, we’re forced to rely on first-hand reporting by our journalists, anecdotes from friends and information disclosed by sources in the criminal justice system to supplement the woefully inadequate figures that officials cite publicly from time to time.

As a rule, Cayman’s police are not very good at maintaining (and utilizing) open channels of communication with the news media and, by extension, the general public. They could, and should, do better.

But something Cayman’s police cannot do, no matter the amount of emphasis and resources devoted, is to prevent crimes from occurring in the first place. No police department can do that. It is simply asking too much.

Yes, it is important for officers to sustain a certain level of visibility within the community – to keep the bad guys, and their potential victims, aware that the good guys are nearby – but taken too far, it quickly becomes an expensive strategy with diminishing returns. Police can’t be everywhere at once, all of the time. (And, even if they could, would we want that?)

Most criminals, even the foolish ones, wouldn’t dare break the law in proximity to a police officer, but some will, as evidenced by Compass newspaper clippings of incidents of misconduct and misdeeds perpetrated practically in the backyards of the police stations in West Bay and Bodden Town. They are evidence of brazenness that most law-abiding residents can’t even comprehend.

Perhaps one reason why Cayman’s police are reticent to share more information with the public is that whenever they do, they predictably become the primary targets of attack – especially from callers to talk radio shows and bloggers who post anonymously to local websites and social media.
The police may be the lightning rod for criticism, but our real issues leading to crime are more directly traceable to a breakdown of our family structures as well as a societal tolerance (including the reluctance to cooperate with authorities) that invites more antisocial behavior.

An effective police force is limited to relatively few functions. Those are: Investigate crimes. Arrest suspects. Collect evidence to help prosecutors secure convictions from judges and juries.

The police can’t be responsible for teaching children right from wrong, monitoring who they associate with, or appearing the instant before they decide to commit a crime. Police are not social workers. They are first responders who appear after, not before, almost all crimes are committed.
Sure, police do have areas for improvement within their own sphere of influence, but they have no control over what goes on inside chambers and courtrooms. The police are as frustrated as we all are – probably more so – when the obviously guilty evade Crown prosecutors’ efforts entirely, or escape the system with little or no time in Northward.

The police cannot do much before a crime occurs, and they cannot do much after the case is handed over to prosecutors. Sure, the police deserve a portion of the blame, and credit, for the condition of Cayman society, but no single individual or institution deserves all the blame, or is wholly free from it.

We are reminded of a quote from the comic strip philosopher Pogo, who once opined: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks Compass, Very well put. Parents really need to feel responsible for what their children turn out to be although it is a fact that no matter how well you raise a child some still go the wrong path. It is up to all you parents out there to start the training from the moment a child leaves the womb, teaching them self respect and respect for others, because 10-15 years later may be to late. I can remember my mother saying to me right after she put a belt to my butt that she wouldn’t do if she didn’t love me. At that age I was mad at her but I sure appreciate it now and even then I know I got it because I did something I wasn’t supposed to be doing. Her one promise to me was that she would raise me to be a good man and as I watched so many of my school mates and acquaintances from the old neighborhood get killed, sent to Jail or end up strung out on drugs I thank her for every whooping it took to keep me on the straight and narrow. She says to this day that what I am now is a direct refection on her as my own children are a direct reflection on me.

  2. Personally, I think the recent Police/Customs raids on containers for export could make a significant contribution to the Prevention side of the equation.

    A permanent joint Customs/Police task force preventing stolen goods leaving the islands would only leave criminals the outlet of selling on island with a much higher risk of detection.

    The general perception is that the outbound border is fairly porous and not well enforced in comparison to the inbound one which generates duty. Change that perception and they will achieve a significant amount of prevention.

  3. Not if they sit in the office and wait for a crime to occur. And that is how they seem to operate in the Cayman Islands.

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