The sad loss of five boaters in March was a sorrowful event for the Cayman Islands. However, the recent exoneration of police officers’ actions during the search and rescue operation is good news for law enforcement, and therefore good news for our country.
In summary, the review — led by U.K. Coastguard Commander Andrew Jenkins, with support from Caymanians Kirkland Nixon and Mary Lawrence — found “no major faults” with the operation, and concluded that the police decision not to launch helicopter or marine searches overnight (and to wait until daylight the next morning) was the correct one.
Amid foul weather and rough seas, our law enforcement personnel, as well as local volunteers, placed themselves at great risk while attempting to locate 9-year-old Kanyi Brown, 11-year-old Kamron Brown and the three adults who accompanied them, Gary Mullings, Nicholas Watler and Edsell Haylock. Although their efforts did not ultimately prove successful, they were in earnest, and we should be grateful to our officers and the members of the community who acted professionally and even heroically. We still mourn those who were lost, but we should also honor those who attempted to save them.
In addition to his confirmation that Cayman police conducted the operation appropriately, Commander Jenkins included in his report perhaps even more valuable observations (in the longer term) about weaknesses in Cayman’s rescue operations.
For example, the police have only one helicopter pilot (limiting the availability of the aircraft); staffing in the marine unit is less than half of what it should be; and the police marine vessels appear to be in a state of disrepair. Surely, with central government bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, and boasting of surpluses nearing $150 million, our police should have recourse to, if not excellent, at least adequate resources to enable them to save lives and patrol our surrounding territory.
From our perspective — as communicators, observers and fact-checkers — what may be the most significant aspect of Commander Jenkins’s review is that it illustrates that police, who had been accused vehemently and publicly of (basically) lying, were in fact telling the truth all along, and were sharing the facts with the Cayman community as they received them.
In this situation, the police performed their duties correctly, admirably, and they were honest. Other people, however, were not so concerned with veracity. Parts of their stories that, all along, were absolutely false (such as the assertion of an early 911 call that never occurred) nonetheless proved effective, in terms of ginning up a hue and cry against law enforcement, specifically now-former Police Commissioner David Baines.
While many people may have had genuine questions about tactical aspects of the unsuccessful search and rescue operation, some people, in our opinion, deliberately and callously seized upon public unrest in order to achieve objectives that were purely political, or personal, in nature. As is written in our “exit interview” with Commissioner Baines that is published today, the “missing boaters” criticism proved to be the final instance of political maneuvering against him, and the coup de grace for his seven-year tenure.
“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.
As we said at the beginning of this editorial, the good news is that the police were right. The bad news is that Commissioner Baines was also right. Politics and policing don’t, and shouldn’t, mix.