Bureaucrats' meddling with public safety puts Cayman at risk

As the old saying goes, “There’s never a cop around when you need one.”

Here in the Cayman Islands, now we know why: Because the government won’t allow Police Commissioner David Baines to hire the officers he needs, which residents are demanding, and for which he already has the budget.

Specifically, Mr. Baines said that he has the resources, on paper, to employ 487 people in the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (both civilians and police officers), but he’s stuck at 450. That means having to “rob” officers from certain areas, such as neighborhood assignments, to help cover other areas, such as local patrols.

The rub, Mr. Baines said in response to lawmakers’ questions about a perceived lack of police presence in the eastern half of Grand Cayman, is that a relatively high percentage, about half, of the RCIPS are expatriates. “So when there’s a [general government hiring] freeze needed to meet a budgetary need in the country, the gaps and vacancies are held in those departments which have [the] most expats,” he said.

(For the record, no one should fault Mr. Baines, or the RCIPS, for being “hostile” to hiring Caymanians. For the last two years, the department has conducted very visible “cadet courses” with the aim of recruiting Caymanians to the force. Each has resulted in the hiring of 12-15 local officers.)

Nevertheless, in our words, not Mr. Baines’s, the police are being penalized for “not being Caymanian enough.”

The culprit, it appears, is the government’s little-known “moratorium committee” — which could be more accurately described as a “solo act,” at most a “duet,” working behind a curtain: Deputy Gov. Franz Manderson and/or a representative from the Portfolio of the Civil Service.

Since the civil service implemented its “soft” hiring freeze around 2009, the moratorium committee has taken responsibility for approving or disapproving departments’ requests to fill vacancies (with Caymanians or expats) or to extend the contracts of Caymanians who have reached the normal retirement age.

As a rule, this Editorial Board applauds and encourages government’s initiatives to restrain its growth, and we, of course, support efforts to ensure that, according to the law, when a Caymanian and non-Caymanian are equally qualified for a particular position, that the Caymanian applicant should take precedence.
However, we do not support arbitrary, micro-managerial decisions by unaccountable (and, up until this point, practically invisible) government bodies that are excessively punitive toward people of certain nationalities — any nationality.

And that appears to be precisely the business of the moratorium committee.

Exacerbating the situation is the all-important role that the RCIPS fulfills in ensuring the safety of Cayman’s residents, visitors, businesses and property. It is almost unthinkable that our police department would be purposefully deprived of desperately needed human resources, just because those humans happen to carry particular passports. (We also would expect to hear from Governor Helen Kilpatrick on this issue, since she is ultimately responsible for Cayman’s police force.)

We have a similar, but distinct, scenario facing the Cayman Islands Fire Service, which has been without a full-time fire chief for more than two years. Despite a scathing report from a visiting U.K. expert — who determined that Cayman’s firefighters, while engaged and enthusiastic, simply do not have the training or equipment needed to function as a modern firefighting agency — recently Premier Alden McLaughlin declared in Finance Committee that he would not support hiring a non-Caymanian fire chief … while in the same breath acknowledging that, legally, as an elected official, he should have no role in the employment of civil servants.

Premier McLaughlin should consider abiding by his own caveat, and step away from the Fire Service. Likewise, Deputy Governor Manderson should let Police Commissioner Baines bring in the personnel his department, and Cayman, need.

Ensuring the safety of Cayman’s population is arguably the single most important function of Cayman’s government. Until our police and fire services are staffed at appropriate levels, with people who have the appropriate experience and training, they are being set up for failure — and we are all being put in personal, and economic, danger.

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  1. Mack that is exactly right.

    One of the problems I can see with RCIPS is that it seems to have adopted the kind of top heavy management structure that typifies so many large metropolitan police forces in the UK.

    Take as just one example the job of FOI manager. In 2008 that was assessed as being a civilian post to be handled by a member of RCIPS media relations team as part of their overall job description. However, since FOI actually kicked in the post has always been held by a senior police officer.

    I’m also aware of other posts that are being held by officers two or even three ranks above the level that they would appear to really merit. It is tempting to suspect that RCIPS is carrying a lot dead weight but how do you prove it?

  2. The politicians are literally playing with fire.

    ”…Premier Alden McLaughlin would not support hiring a non-Caymanian fire chief…”

    Given the other headline today, it may be the ”acting” fire chief might not be an option either regardless of experience.

    And that is the issue, experience. Cayman is only a small island, with around 18,000 voters which includes retirees etc. so the pool of potential employees is probably under 15,000.

    The reality is if you were to require even a couple of years of fire fighting experience that pool drops to a very small number, and yet you are now considering making someone a fire chief who in any major city would still be considered a rookie.

    It is Caymans good fortune that the typical fodder for the fire service is fairly trivial stuff, with the occasional dump fire and airport drill, BUT the flip side is that there is nothing of merit to ”forge” a true leader.

    The premier needs a lesson in risk management – if there is an incident and tourists are injured or killed – he can stand up at a press conference and show that Cayman hired the best Fire Chief it could (or not).

    The reputational damage of the FIFA scandal will pale if it transpires, in the spotlight of international media following an incident, that Caymans Fire Chief is far less qualified and experienced than would generally be acceptable, and the global perception as to why they got the job would be nepotism or corruption, so much for zero tolerance. What is not tolerable is to risk the lives of firefighters by failing to provide good leadership.

    There was a recent report on the fire service and changes will need to be made. Some of these will be unpopular. A cynic might suggest an expat fire chief may be a better choice than someone who will still be on island afterwards.

  3. "…However, we do not support arbitrary, micro-managerial decisions by unaccountable (and, up until this point, practically invisible) government bodies…"

    The civil service and Commissioner Baines are both accountable to the same person- the Governor.

    One can delegate authority, but not responsibility.