The RCIPS: Policing and public relations

 “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
— From the 1967 film “Cool Hand Luke”

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has a public relations problem. For evidence, just look at the results of the RCIPS’s own community survey, which was conducted last fall and released last week.

When the 748 survey participants were asked to rate the job the RCIPS was doing in a number of categories, few gave them high ratings – in any of the categories. Fewer than 6 percent of respondents thought the police were doing a good or very good job in reducing nonviolent crimes, in solving crimes once they occurred, or in keeping victims of crimes informed of progress in their cases.

Other results, while not as bad, were nothing to boast about: The best rating the RCIPS got was the 15.7 percent of respondents who thought they were doing a good or very good job at keeping order in the streets, which compared to the 45.7 percent who thought they were doing a poor or very poor job at the same task.

Even if these numbers are not reflective of the actual performance of the RCIPS – and we don’t think they are – they indicate a serious breakdown in communications between the department and the community it serves.

In fact, dealing with the media and the public, from the police perspective, is more likely considered an afterthought, or even an annoyance, than a necessary part of real police work.

Nevertheless, there are tangible consequences for everyone when the dialogue between the police and the community breaks down. For example, the police routinely rely on the public for cooperation in their investigations, just as the public relies on the police for protection. A good relationship between the two is essential – and attainable.

In truth, the police have a good story to tell: The reality is that crime in the Cayman Islands is relatively low compared to the rest of the Caribbean and even compared to many places in the United States. Cayman, by most measures, is one of the safest and most secure places to visit or call home. However, anyone looking at the results of the police survey would probably think differently.

The police are in a unique position in that they often have the worst stories to tell, but they also have some of the best – stories of bravery, courage and heroism. Once a year, at the RCIPS’s Outstanding Service Awards Gala dinner, we hear about these success stories. Why don’t we learn about them as they occur?

We applaud the RCIPS for its courage to conduct the community survey, despite no doubt anticipating that the results were unlikely to be favorable, and then releasing them when that proved to be the case. We also applaud them for conducting a series of district meetings in recent weeks to hear firsthand the public’s concerns relating to crime and policing.

Now we encourage the police to go one step further and commit to communicating with the public in a timely, transparent, and professional way. Appointing a full-time public relations officer would be a good place to start.

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  1. Some would say that public relations within the police is not as good as it should be. However I do believe that the public should not just express this amongst themselves, but to inform those in authority where the hole in the wall is.
    Caymanians originally have always been busy-bodied, meaning they made it their business to be the first person to say good morning how are you today. Where you from and who you fa. That is just our way of saying hello and wanting to be friends.
    The population of the Police force from my view, looks to be 75% foreigners. What we will see here and maybe finding it hard to accept, is that their culture is entirely different from ours. They speak different, they are more aggressive in approach and are not usually very communicative with the public. So no matter how they try to be different, it will eventually come out in the wash water.
    Cayman has changed to the tune of being a passive police officer cannot work any more. These are not the days that if something happens at Central that a police officer has time to call up friends and family to elaborate, it has became a rough road to travel and a long way to go. Its not possible to have all the crowd on their side, but through good public relations they can move mountains.

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  2. If I understand this correctly RCIPS are funded for a press officer but nobody wants the job. I think the fact that they can’t fill the post speaks volumes for the current situation. It wasn’t so long ago that potential recruits, both police officers and civilian specialists, were literally queuing up for vacancies at RCIPS. Where are they now and would anyone care to speculate on what has gone wrong since then?

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  3. David, in August 2007 RCIPS began the process to recruit a second press officer. After a lot of wheeling and dealing, the post was approved for appointment on 1 May 2008 on the basis that the new recruit would also become the FOI officer. Under this arrangement RCIPS could have provided professionally-trained media contacts 24/7. To offset the costs one press officer would also have been responsible for all internal communications and the website while the other would handle FOI.

    When Tempura went public and Commissioner Kernohan was suspended the wheels started to fall off this plan. As a candidate for the new post I was repeatedly assured during April-June 2008 that officially the recruitment process was still underway but at the same time I heard unofficially that RCIPS had started to re-write the job specification. Other sources went further and said that RCIPS HR were being told to block the recruitment because, due to my extensive FOI experience on the UK, I was likely to be the only suitable candidate. Quite what happened after this isn’t clear but I know that very little of the original plan was implemented.

    It might be interesting to hear from the current Commissioner why Stuart Kernohan’s plan was blocked and who was responsible because right now it looks to me as though all RCIPS’ on-going problems both with PR and with FOI can be traced back to that decision.

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