Cayman Islands government immigration and hiring freeze rules are combining to prevent additional police officers from being hired to patrol local communities, Royal Cayman Islands Police Commissioner David Baines said Monday.
Mr. Baines, in testimony before the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee, fielded questions about police responses to certain incidents that some lawmakers indicated were lacking, particularly in the less-populated areas east and north of Bodden Town.
“I have to manage demand with the resources I have,” Mr. Baines said. “I haven’t asked for more of the budget. I have asked for the budget that’s been allocated.”
The commissioner said that RCIPS has struggled through “stop-starts” over the past several months where certain policing programs could not begin because of uncertainty about staffing. He said he did not intend to criticize the current Progressives-led administration in making his remarks, but was merely flagging up a structural problem that existed in government finances.
“It happens with the police, probably as one of the most affected departments, namely because we’ve got around 50 percent of expats, so when there’s a freeze needed to meet a budgetary need in the country, the gaps and vacancies are held in those departments which have [the] most expats,” Mr. Baines told the committee. He was referring to a “soft” hiring freeze that the civil service started around 2009 and has maintained to some level ever since.
“At the minute, my budget suggests that I should have 487 officers,” Mr. Baines continued. “I’ve got 450. We move constantly to fill those vacancies, and it makes sense that I don’t like to take staff from one area … into the other. I seek to use [officers] in the best areas to develop public confidence and reassurance, to meet local demands but also to have sufficient [officers] there to respond quickly to any incidents that are developing.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Baines clarified that 487 is the total number of jobs in the RCIPS, both civilian and police. That figure is the total planned in the budget for the upcoming 2015/16 year. However, at various times in a budget year, the government will give directives for the “freezing” of current vacancies in order to save money.
“I will be in the region of $1.9 million underspent on my budget this year [referring to the 2014/15 budget year that ends in June], not because I didn’t want to spend it, but due to various bureaucratic procedures that prevent the quick advertisement and replacement of positions that become vacant by retiring or leaving staff,” he said. “The police and other agencies that have a significant expat workforce get disproportionately hit by this moratorium on appointments as it is the short-term contract[s] that are subjected to most churn and are most affected by freezes.”
Police staffing during the government’s 2013/14 budget year, the latest records available, showed 217 Caymanians and 232 non-Caymanians working in the RCIPS, about a 52 percent non-Caymanian workforce. Over each of the last two years, the RCIPS has hosted one cadet course to hire local officers. The classes typically add 12 to 15 cadets to the department.
North Side MLA Ezzard Miller asked how many police officers should be added to ensure “increased police presence” in North Side and East End districts.
“I don’t need additional budget,” Mr. Baines said, adding that hiring nearly 40 more officers would prevent the police from having to “rob” from certain areas of the department to staff others – for instance – taking neighborhood police officers off their assignments to boost local patrols.
“If we’re fully [strengthened], I don’t need to deviate people from shifts in the eastern districts,” he said.
In addition to the hiring issues, Mr. Baines said, a great deal of police officers’ time over the past 18 months has been spent on serving either arrest warrants or summonses from the courts.
Mr. Baines said it has been the intention to move more of the process serving duties to the court marshals service, but for a variety of reasons that hasn’t happened.
“Sadly, it is left as a baby for the police to look after and deliver,” he said.
There are already hundreds of outstanding warrants dating back years that have not been served, and Mr. Baines said Monday that the situation isn’t getting any better.
“The reality is that often we serve all of them, a warrant is executed, the matter goes to court and then it’s put off for another date,” Mr. Baines said. “We then get further summonses or warrants issued when it’s delayed yet again. So it triples, quadruples the number of times we have to go through the same process to go before a court.”
To help alleviate officers’ workload, Mr. Baines said the RCIPS has begun traffic enforcement efforts with the special constabulary. Special constables are unpaid, volunteer officers who work in certain capacities with the police.
During the 2010/11 budget year, the RCIPS effectively eliminated its traffic department, shunting traffic duties to rank-and-file patrol officers. Since that time, the overall number of traffic tickets issued by police has declined steadily, reaching an all-time low last year before trending up again this year.
Mr. Baines said the special constabulary unit would focus on traffic issues such as covered license plates, tinted windows and speeding.