In the early hours of Sunday morning, a large crowd gathered near McField Square in George Town to observe a dangerous confrontation between a gunman and police. Upon being stopped for questioning by police, 22-year-old Jonathan Welcome produced a firearm and pointed it at officers. In response, one officer drew his weapon and commanded Welcome to drop his firearm. Welcome refused to comply.
As the throng watched, “The man, while pointing the gun at officers, fled into the densely populated area of Rock Hole where he was able to elude capture,” according to a police statement.
The showdown the crowd witnessed that night can be seen as emblematic of the overall situation of crime in the Cayman Islands, with violent criminals on one side, law enforcement authorities on the other, and society vulnerable to the crossfire.
In regard to Sunday’s incident, the police statement praised the armed officer for exercising “extraordinary restraint and concern for public safety” by not igniting a gun battle in the presence of multiple onlookers, even though it meant that Welcome was able to escape. (His freedom may turn out to be temporary – police know exactly who he is, have distributed his photograph through local media and are encouraging people to share information about his whereabouts with police or Crime Stoppers. He should turn himself in immediately.)
Some commenters have expressed contrary opinions, and warn that the officer’s refusal to use his weapon might embolden other gunmen who may now believe they can avoid arrest in the future by threatening police with firearms.
We (with our limited knowledge of what occurred) think it unwise to criticize the armed officer’s split-second judgment based on what “might” happen in the future. Police who carry firearms do so in order to protect themselves, their fellow officers and the public – not to shoot criminals, unless there is no other choice.
In this case, there was. The officer’s decision not to shoot may very well have saved lives and prevented collateral injuries.
The task now for police is to ensure that Welcome is arrested and brought to justice.
Just as in the tense standoff with Welcome, our police in general have been placed in an extremely precarious position. Brazen acts of criminality, much of it involving guns, appear to be on the rise – including armed robberies at Alfresco in West Bay, Al La Kebab in Marquee Plaza, Island Jewellers in Camana Bay and Discount Liquors in Pasadora Place.
In the media, over the radio and on the Internet, certain segments of the Cayman community have formed a vituperative chorus to rave against the police.
In part because of unfair and irresponsible criticisms, the overall toxic atmosphere and erosion of support for our peace officers, our police will soon face a vacuum in top leadership, with the impending departures of Police Commissioner David Baines, Deputy Commissioner Stephen Brougham, Superintendent Mike Cranswick and Superintendent Robert Scotland – leaving only three officers remaining at the level of superintendent or above.
Perhaps the most significant and most formidable duty for Governor Helen Kilpatrick, in the final year of her tenure, will be to fill the ranks of police leadership and set up the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service for success. As governor, she is responsible for fighting crime “from the top down.”
But the fundamental, and the far more important, responsibility of battling criminality “from the ground up” lies not with the governor, any U.K. appointee nor any Caymanian in the police leadership, but with the collective members of Cayman society. In the long term, in order to prevent our country from falling victim to waves of violence and lawlessness, we must address the cancer of crime before it develops and metastasizes.
In this protracted war, our weapons will not be batons, Tasers or firearms – or anything designed to harm the body.
Our weapons must be implements that cultivate the mind and spirit: education, accountability, employment and opportunities.