Chief Superintendent Walton: More than 150 burglars known
Kurt Walton has been chasing Cayman Islands burglars for the better part of two decades.
During that time, the now-chief superintendent of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, who worked for most of 1990s in the criminal investigation department solving burglaries, has come to an inescapable conclusion.
“Will we ever arrest our way out of this problem? No, We have to be looking at other problem-solving issues,” Mr. Walton said.
The senior police officer provided these statistics collected by the police department over the past 15 years: Between 2000 and 2004, the Cayman Islands averaged 613.8 burglaries per year. During 2005 and 2009, Cayman averaged 639.2 break-ins per year. In the past five years, Cayman averaged about 592 burglaries annually.
“The numbers are very consistent,” Mr. Walton said, nothing that the only year in the past 15 in which burglaries fell below 500 was 2012.
This year, police have made more than 100 arrests in connection with burglaries that have occurred since January. Statistics as of June 30 indicate that it is likely the Cayman Islands may see more than 600 break-ins again this year.
“I am convinced it’s not going to just go away,” Mr. Walton said. “It certainly was this way for the entire 1990s. There needs to be a different approach.”
The first thing that needs to change, the chief superintendent said, is the public perception that only a few culprits are responsible for all the break-ins in Cayman. That perception, he said, was shattered during an internal command staff meeting earlier this year.
“There’s no ‘10 or 15 guys’ involved in burglaries,” he said. “I’ve personally counted 150 faces in terms of individuals who were active in burglaries and I wasn’t including those who were in jail at that time.”
While some “career” burglary suspects commit multiple offenses, others are offenders in their late teens who are not nearly as persistent, Mr. Walton said. One person arrested earlier this year was 14 years old. Some burglars are supporting a drug habit, others just prefer to steal for a living, he said.
Whatever the stated reasons why people commit their crimes, many who are released from prison “genuinely want” to turn from a life of crime, Mr. Walton said. For most, that lasts about four to six weeks, before the offenders return “to their old tricks,” generally due to a lack of employment opportunities and community support.
“We have to catch these individuals before they’re released from prison,” Mr. Walton said. “Say, [four] months [before] being released … you have a needs assessment with social services, employment, the prison, collaborating. [The suspect] is going to be released in four months’ time … what do we have in place?
“This is not a police problem any longer. This is a society problem and other agencies need to be involved. There has to be a holistic approach to it.”
It’s an issue Cayman Islands Director of Prisons Neil Lavis knows well and which he has sought to address by partnering with local businesses and employment agencies to try and place inmates in jobs upon their release.
A release under temporary license program was introduced last year for inmates coming to the end of their sentences to get involved in voluntary or paid work. Mr. Lavis said if prisoners can establish that they are credible, reliable workers while in custody, more businesses will be willing to take a chance on them once they are released.
Recidivism rates at Northward Prison average around 70 percent for all offenders.
“If they go out with some money behind them, a job to go to, somewhere to live and some training to address some of their issues, they have a far better chance,” Mr. Lavis told the Cayman Compass in late 2014.
Chief Superintendent Walton said he realizes the idea of hiring ex-convicts may seem unpalatable to many local businesses and recruitment agencies. But he insists something has to change in the way Cayman is dealing with the burglary problem.
“What’s the alternative? Just continue what you’re doing now?”