Former police commissioner David Baines left the Cayman Islands this week insisting he was the victim of a baseless, politically motivated smear campaign.
Mr. Baines, in a final interview with the Cayman Compass, defended his record and condemned what he described as “malicious and vindictive complaints” aimed at ousting him from office.
“It was all an attempt to undermine, smear and create an unfortunate situation that meant I couldn’t do my job as commissioner,” he said.
“The entire probe was a political attempt, and a successful one, to stop me doing my job.”
Mr. Baines said the 22 complaints raised in a no-confidence motion put to the Legislative Assembly by opposition backbencher Bernie Bush had been reviewed by the governor’s office and shown to be without foundation.
“They have been looked at and were a waste of public money. They have all been addressed and a response has been made that found no substance to any of them,” he said.
He said he made the decision to leave the Cayman Islands after seven years because the “storm of criticism” coming toward the police, of which Mr. Bush’s private members’ motion was one aspect, was making it impossible for him to do his job effectively.
“As a leader you have to recognize the time to step aside and allow the service to get on and do its primary role of protecting its citizens rather than being castigated on a daily basis by those who should know better,” he said.
The police handling of a search and rescue operation for five missing boaters was the latest touchstone for political and public discontent. Complaints leveled at the organization have included the theft of a large quantity of drugs from the police evidence locker and the hiring of a Jamaican armed officer who was later convicted of murder.
Mr. Baines defended his conduct in those high-profile incidents, but said the bulk of the other issues cited by Mr. Bush and other vocal critics were not grounded in fact.
Despite the public backlash and his departure being marked by acrimony, Mr. Baines believes his time in Cayman has been a success and insists the “silent majority” support and respect the police. He believes a vocal, politically and personally motivated minority, amplified by blogs and talk radio, have fueled misconceptions about the effectiveness of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
He said he had taken over a force which was “on its knees” in 2009, and that he modernized the operation and made it professional.
“We have invested heavily in training, we have tackled the gang crime, we have stopped the killings, we have increased our prosecution of serious offenders, we have taken gunmen off the streets, we have filled Northward, we’ve filled the court. All that has come about by leadership and direction and hard work, not just from me, but by those who have worked tirelessly for me in trying to professionalize and lift standards.”
He said the police were doing their part by arresting and bringing charges which led to convictions held up on appeal at a “level we have never done before” but were being used as a “convenient smokescreen” for political failure to deal with the root causes of crime.
“We are responsible for policing. That doesn’t mean we are responsible for crime. We are not responsible for poor families, for poor education, for the lack of rehabilitation.
“Some of the politicians who have had responsibility for those areas don’t want to ask and answer those questions. It is easier to point the finger at the police.
“All I ask is when it comes to election time, ask your MLA, ‘I understand what you are doing about the police, please tell me what you are going to do to help families in difficulties, to help the court system expedite procedures, what are you doing about schools to identify and mediate problem individuals at a younger age so they don’t come into the criminal justice system?’
“Unless we start having that balanced approach, we will have … politics that makes it very easy to blame the police when it goes wrong and for the politicians to take credit when it goes right.”
Mr. Baines accepted he had been a polarizing figure as chief of police, saying he had spoken his mind “directly and bluntly” and didn’t take criticism lying down.
“I have been answerable to the law. I haven’t been bent by favors for one group or another, and I have been consistent and defended our organization when it has needed to be defended, which no one else was doing.”
He acknowledged that it had not been a smooth ride and expressed frustration at what he describes as broken budget promises. He said he had been forced to operate 50 officers short of capacity to deliver a promised pay raise to rank and file officers who until recently were the lowest earners in all uniformed services in the Cayman Islands.
Mr. Baines highlights finally upgrading the police custody cells, which he said were previously an uninhabitable “dungeon,” as another step forward. Progress, in all areas, has taken longer than expected, he acknowledged.
“It has taken three times the energy to get a third of what I had hoped to get done, but that’s just the context of the way things work or don’t work here.”
He cautioned against changing the structure of oversight and accountability for police, which is channeled through the governor’s office.
“One of the successes of the Overseas Territories in comparison to some of the independent countries in the region is that the commissioners have enjoyed independence from political control have remained operationally independent. They are answerable to the law,” he said.
“If we start to bend it for political expediency, you will … find, as other independent Caribbean countries have seen, the police are merely a pawn of the political party of the time. That can’t be good for the community or for any nation to do that.”
Despite the manner of his departure, Mr. Baines said he leaves with good memories of the majority of Cayman Islands people and describes his seven year tenure as a “unique experience.”
“I had some memorable experiences that will stay with me for the rest of my life, no more so than on Jan. 1, 2014, which started off with a celebration for being honored by Her Majesty The Queen, to eight hours later finding myself confronting armed robbers at Diamonds International. That is never anything I had ever thought I would have to do and yet did and am pleased to say training and good luck meant that we got a successful result with some great support from members of the public who courageously came in and assisted.”
More generally, he says the highlight of his time in Cayman has been “giving justice to victims who never thought they would get it.”
Mr. Baines is confident the majority of the Cayman Islands public still respect and support the police, though he believes the current political climate may make it harder to find a new commissioner.
“I don’t think it will be easy. People will look at it and some quality candidates that would have considered it may say, ‘I see what is on the wall here’ and not bother.
“That said, I’m pretty sure they will find someone to do this job and I wish them good luck.”