For exhibiting calmness, professionalism and restraint during dangerous situations involving firearms, veteran Police Constable Fernando Soto was honored as Police Officer of the Year during the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Outstanding Service Awards.
Mr. Soto, a native Honduran and member of the armed Uniform Support Group who has been with the RCIPS for 13 years, was personally involved in two confrontations with armed gang members in the past six months, where he managed to resolve the situations without shots being fired.
Police Commissioner David Baines said, “Because of his courage, bravery and intelligence, he didn’t need to draw his firearm.”
The other finalist for the top award, Detective Constable Nakea Mendez, is originally from Jamaica and has been with the RCIPS for eight years. According to Commissioner Baines, Mr. Mendez is a “policeman’s policeman – and that’s the best accolade an officer can receive.”
Mr. Mendez was praised for his ability to inspire trust from his colleagues, as well as sources on the street who may be members of the criminal fraternity, in order to gather intelligence and perform detective work needed to solve serious crimes.
About 400 people attended Saturday’s event at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, with proceeds going toward the Police Welfare Fund, which provides financial assistance to RCIPS members and their families in special circumstances not covered by public funds, including in case of medical conditions, injuries or being killed in the line of duty.
Other officers honored at the event were Police Constable Angie Watler (Police Welfare Award), Inspector Kevin Ashworth (Diversity Award) and the Financial Crime Unit (Unit Citation of the Year). Special Constable David Jayse Wilson was named Special Constable of the Year; exhibits custodian Nora Rankine was named Support Staff Member of the Year; and Donya Chisholm, an employee of Blackbeard’s liquor store, received the Community Award for her actions during and after a robbery, when she called police, identified one of the robbers and testified in court to help secure convictions.
Former RCIPS officer Stuart Bostock, who is president and CEO of The Security Centre, served as co-emcee along with Vicki Wheaton of Pinnacle Media Group. An auction conducted by Ms. Wheaton raised thousands of dollars for the Police Welfare Fund.
In addition to putting a spotlight on the RCIPS’s finest, this year’s event also served as a farewell of sorts for Commissioner Baines, who will be leaving Cayman at the end of May. Saying that Commissioner Baines has been an unwavering voice in support of the police and a primary reason why Cayman remains one of the safest jurisdictions in the Caribbean, Ritz-Carlton Human Resources Director Janette Goodman presented Mr. Baines with a special award from the hotel company, which has become one of the event’s traditions.
Mr. Bostock highlighted Commissioner Baines’s positive impact not only locally, but also across the region, particularly as president of the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police and world chair for the Central American/Caribbean Region of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Mr. Bostock said Commissioner Baines has taken a leading role in stopping gun crime in the Caribbean by understanding that firearms being used to commit crimes in Cayman are also being used in other jurisdictions, and identifying the source of those firearms and the illegal network used for trafficking.
While Commissioner Baines kept the focus of the evening on the officers and civilians being honored, he did share a few pointed remarks in the context of recent controversy around the police, and the “lack of confidence” motion in police leadership posed by opposition and independent lawmakers that the Legislative Assembly is set to discuss in a special session beginning Monday.
“The reality is this: 95 percent of the officers and staff of the RCIPS do their best to serve their community and serve it to the best of their ability,” Commissioner Baines said.
“Anyone who says they have no confidence in the RCIPS either is ill-informed or sees the world through different spectacles than I do,” he said. “But I’ll leave the politics to the politicians. I’d rather deal with the criminals. That’s a deal I’d do any day of the week.”
The Diamond Sponsor of the Outstanding Service Awards was the Kenneth B. Dart Foundation. Platinum Sponsors were Caribbean Club, Pinnacle Media and The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. Gold Sponsors were Bodden Holdings Ltd., Chris Johnson & Associates and Magnum Jewelers.