The news that more armed police officers have been put on regular patrol shifts is not cause for alarm, or even concern, but is certainly worthy of our attention.
According to a story that appeared in Monday’s Compass, additional police officers received firearms training last year, in anticipation of the recent strategic move, where armed officers have been taken from the specialist Uniform Support Group and put out on regular patrols.
Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Chief Superintendent Kurt Walton said, “What we have done differently is decentralize the USG by attaching armed officers to shifts island-wide. At the same time, we have retained a number of armed officers within the USG.”
We have heard the conjecture that the “decentralization” of firearms-carrying officers could be an initial step toward our country arming many if not most of its police officers. Certainly, that has been the trend in other Caribbean countries. (Look no further than Jamaica, and to a lesser extent the U.S., to witness problems associated with gun-toting police officers behaving irresponsibly.)
On the other hand, RCIPS Commissioner David Baines has consistently opposed the idea of all of Cayman’s officers carrying firearms – saying, for example as he is quoted in Monday’s story, that people in the community may begin viewing the police as an “occupation force” and refuse to cooperate with them during criminal investigations.
We are sure that under Commissioner Baines’s vigil, Cayman will never have a fully armed police force. It’s just not his style. That being said, the current commissioner’s term of appointment is scheduled to end in 2017. It is impossible to predict what the proclivities of his successor may be.
To the above, we add the following observation: Police officers carry guns so that they may use them. Whether the use of a firearm is justified in a particular situation only becomes clear once the incident has occurred, and perhaps lives have been saved … or lost.
Put another way, decisions about the deployment of firearms — who carries them, who carries what, when are they used, when are they not — are serious, and can have the most serious consequences.
We believe Cayman’s police officers should carry as many firearms as is required in order to keep the peace, protect themselves and safeguard the citizenry. Our hope is that number would be zero, or as close to zero as possible.
However, it must be recognized that the nature of crime in Cayman has changed over the decades. It may not be entirely accurate to say that gun crimes are on the rise in Cayman — rather, criminals in Cayman already have access to guns when they want them.
That at least some of Cayman’s police officers need firearms seems apparent. Anything more specific than that, we leave in the capable hands of our police commissioner and his top subordinates.
However, we think it is clear that if more police officers are going to be carrying guns, and if armed officers are going to be interacting with the public more often, then it behooves RCIPS to augment its training of officers accordingly. Admittedly, we are not experts on firearms in law enforcement, but every single police officer who carries a firearm in Cayman should be.
A change in RCIPS’s firearms strategy may be just what the country needs. But the possibility that a police officer may be carrying a deadly weapon in the absence of adequate training is a risk Cayman doesn’t need to take.