“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.