Deputy governor slams door on ‘no confidence’ in debate over police

MLAs insist they were not targeting rank-and-file

A “lack of confidence” motion questioning the Cayman Islands police service’s management methods and seeking a review of its governance structure was rewritten in the Legislative Assembly late Monday after independent lawmakers agreed to a compromise with the Progressives-led government.

The compromise was reached after Deputy Governor Franz Manderson criticized the motion, stating it would serve to deter young Caymanians from entering law enforcement professions in the future and would constitute a “huge disservice to the brave men and women” in the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

According to the compromise, supported by all 17 voting assembly members, the legislature requested that Governor Helen Kilpatrick appoint an independent team to review RCIPS methods and administration. In addition, the legislature asked that a succession plan be created to appoint a Caymanian officer as commissioner of police within four years.

“We have agreed to a way forward so we don’t have difficulties with our people in the near future,” East End MLA Arden McLean said late Monday. Mr. McLean had moved the initial private members’ motion which sought to declare a “lack of confidence” in the RCIPS and its governance.

“No one really wanted to send a message that we were against the rank and file of the police department,” Mr. McLean said.

“I have great respect … and admiration for all our law enforcement officers,” said Mr. Manderson, who does not often join in debates with elected members of the House, but commented Monday night during the legislative debate. “I stand here today to defend our law enforcement officers … and let them know that we do have confidence in them.

“I want members to think about what is being said here today … and what messages we are sending to our young people who might want to join the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, who might one day want to become commissioner of police. What message are we sending when these officers who have just joined the RCIPS [in local recruitment classes in 2014 and 2015] hear that we are going to be debating a no confidence motion in them?”

No members of the Progressives-led government bench rose to debate the motion, which has touched off a firestorm of controversy and which has been blamed, at least partly, for the premature departure of Police Commissioner David Baines, a year before his government contract was due to expire.

Mr. McLean said the debate on his motion, which was signed by all eight MLAs who occupy the opposition benches in the legislature, had been confused by the deputy governor. Mr. McLean said his motion was not targeted at the “rank and file” officers who are out patrolling the streets. Rather, Mr. McLean said, it was decisions by those responsible for the management of the police service that had left the police unable to do their jobs properly.

“We are asking them to do a job without providing the tools for them,” Mr. McLean said. “We have failed.”

The East End MLA said local police officers were going out with the equivalent of a “tamarind switch in their hands” when it comes to staff and equipment support. “I am angry,” he said.

“They’re overwhelmed with work. We expect too much from our police officers.”

Further, Mr. McLean said, disputes over police staffing, particularly in the less-populated eastern districts, and complaints about how police approach the public are nothing new.

“This fight hasn’t been started this week,” he said. He read out, as examples, reports he presented to Cabinet six times between 2010 and 2015 that concerned, among other areas, lack of police patrols and increased crime in the eastern districts.

Mr. McLean and North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, who supported the private members’ motion, both said Monday’s motion was filed only after every other avenue to resolve the various policing problems had been explored.

“What are we supposed to do?” Mr. Miller asked. “Sit back and wait another year for something to happen?”

Mr. Manderson said statistics recorded for police calls, arrests and cases before the courts belie statements alleging the police could not or would not do their jobs.

The deputy governor said that between 2010 and 2016, the RCIPS recorded about 20,000 crimes, and between 2012 and 2016 officers arrested almost 9,000 people. Nearly 10,000 criminal cases were filed in Summary Court between 2010 and 2015, Mr. Manderson said, with a significant increase in prosecutions between 2012 and this year.

“It’s a worrying trend, but it shows that the RCIPS is responding to and arresting persons for crime,” Mr. Manderson said. He suggested the real “problem” is that “the police were actually doing their jobs” in locking up criminals.

Police failures of late could not be denied, the deputy governor said. He indicated that the theft of drugs and other police evidence, including motorcycles, from the George Town Police Station were “unacceptable” incidents that would be dealt with in the criminal justice system.

“I’m not going to sit here and defend the indefensible,” he said. “[We must] hold police to account. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t. But there’s a way to do that … and this motion is not the way.

“The public has the right to feel safe. The question is, do our people feel safe? The answer is ‘no,’ a lot of people do not. But we must take responsibility for our views and our words. There are people out there who will take a cue from them and use them as an opportunity to commit crime.”

Mr. Miller said the deputy governor’s comments were an attempt to “spin” the issue – which has a much broader public safety aspect – into an “Ezzard and Arden attack the police” scenario. Mr. Miller suggested that the types of crimes being committed in North Side – a recent home invasion burglary, a stabbing attack – weren’t occurring there years ago.

Mr. McLean put it this way: “It cannot be right for the top brass in the service to have one or two people who are patrolling [the eastern districts]. The reason is the crime out there isn’t as bad as it is in George Town or West Bay. Well, at one time there wasn’t any crime in George Town or West Bay either. What do you think it came from?”