EDITORIAL – Cayman police: To protect and serve (warrants)

“A large number of failures to comply with Court orders results in delays in the progression of the judicial system and has a negative impact on its ability to fulfill important functions.”

In November 2015, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service issued the above statement, accompanying a notice that police would be cracking down on outstanding warrants. Chief Superintendent Kurt Walton said, “If an individual ignores a summons to court, then we have an arrest warrant to execute, without exception.”

Last November, there were 761 outstanding warrants in the Cayman Islands. Now, in July 2016, there are 1,000 criminal court warrants and 370 unpaid traffic fines.

That’s right: Eight months after police announced its “crackdown” on outstanding warrants, there are significantly more outstanding warrants. And about a dozen more are being added every day.

As the statement from police leading this editorial indicates, when people ignore Court orders, it congests an already-ponderous system and interrupts the adjudication of justice. In Friday’s Cayman Compass, we published a front-page story detailing what happens on a typical day within the doors of Summary Court, the common entry point into our country’s judicial system.

Far too often, our magistrates are compelled by procedural reasons to issue — instead of judgments — adjournments, postponements and delays. Paperwork is missing, witnesses are missing or, worst of all, defendants are missing.

The cumulative result is the gradual, collective undermining of respect for the authority of our courts, judges’ orders and — ultimately — law and order in the Cayman Islands.

Acting Police Commissioner Anthony Ennis understands this. You can sense his frustration when he says (as we quoted him in last week’s Compass): “Very rarely do you see any consequences or actions for failing to appear in court … So people play fast and loose with the law. You have to respect the judiciary.”

Commissioner Ennis made it clear that he is not criticizing the court for issuing warrants. Neither are we. Nor are we criticizing the police for not being able to keep up with those warrants. It is a question of manpower, allocation of resources and setting of priorities.

And it’s not just warrants. Uniformed police are required to serve court witness summons (orders from judges to appear in court to testify). Each year, police receive 9,000 of those summons to hand-deliver to individuals.

Remember, all of this “serving” is atop a mountain of duties that police officers perform on a daily basis — such as aiding the citizenry, going on patrols, responding to emergency calls (at a clip of 2,300 per month), and, of course, arresting the malefactors among us. In other words, “policing.”

Commissioner Ennis and Chief Superintendent Walton think that police officers should be relieved of ancillary responsibilities such as serving summonses and warrants (for non-violent offenders), attending to minor traffic accidents and providing security at schools. If that’s what our top brass recommend so that their officers can focus on “their real jobs” — then we hear them, loud and clear.

This is a system that is clearly broken — and has been for years. It is overloading our police, clogging up our courts, and engendering disrespect in our community for the concept of timely and efficient justice.

Perhaps Chief Justice Anthony Smellie can “invite” participating parties to his chambers to come up with a better way to enforce the law, and court orders — which carry the force of law.