The Cayman Islands’ new head of neighborhood policing believes the force can win back the trust and support of the community.
After two months on the job, Supt. Robert Graham says he is hopeful that police and community relations are entering a new era.
Superintendent Graham has met with retailers, bar and nightclub owners, security firm chiefs and community groups in a series of meetings which he hopes to turn into monthly forums.
He is encouraging those groups to coordinate on crime prevention and provide information to the police.
But he acknowledged police would have to win their support by listening to concerns and dealing with their issues.
“This isn’t pie in the sky. It is not saying hello and we will disappear, this is a really purposeful drive towards working together with a host of different community groups,” he told the Cayman Compass following his series of introductory meetings.
He said police had responded to concerns emerging from those meetings, directly targeting issues highlighted, something he believes will ultimately pay dividends.
Following concerns mentioned by bar owners at the “nighttime economy” forum, police directed officers to increase visibility in bars and clubs, issued traffic tickets to youths racing vehicles in central George Town and set up a plainclothes operation to identify drug dealers.
“To me it is nothing more than getting the right officer in the right place, doing the right thing at the right time,” he said. “It is as basic as that.
“When issues are raised, we need to deal with them effectively. With that comes confidence. If the community sees tangible activity, they feel a bit more confident to report crime and provide more information and intelligence. Police will never be successful unless they are working alongside the community.”
Superintendent Graham, who is in charge of district operations for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, acknowledged that officers need to be more visible in communities.
He said the resources are not there to have an officer walking the beat in every community across the island. But he believes they can be directed to crime hot spots and problem areas, if police have a steady stream of information from community partners.
“It is no use just having officers wandering up and down the street where there is no activity. Granted, it gives people a sense of security, but actually what you want them to do is be very purposeful in all their engagements with the public.”
He wants to see administrative tasks like chasing up warrants for court appearances taken off the police’s plate, freeing up officers for more important work.
“I’m a real ambassador for proper neighborhood policing. These islands can be effectively policed with the numbers we have if they are appropriately deployed,” he added.
With more than 600 security guards on the island, he believes partnership is essential.
“We are outstripped in terms of numbers. It is really important to tap in and work together.
“We would like their eyes and ears, the information, the intelligence. Our resources are finite. We don’t have huge amounts of officers.
“If security officers are seeing the same issues at the same location, we would want our officers to be there.”
He hopes the numerous security firms on island will come together to develop a set of universal standards with the police providing advice as one “stakeholder” in the industry.
He said the regular meetings with community groups, including club owners and security firms, will continue as long as they are effective.
“There has to be tangible outcomes. We could all meet up and say how bad the world is, but we want to keep tabs on issues and actually do something about it.
“It is all about community reassurance and giving them the confidence to be able to report incidents and feel that somebody will do something. Sometimes people just think ‘why should I report it because nothing will get done.’ We have to change that. It is an evolving process and it is going to take time.”
He acknowledged there has been conflict and a loss of trust between the police and some sections of the community, but he said the dawn of a new commissioner arriving and new senior management in the force is a chance for a new start.
“This is a different kind of chapter and there is an opportunity for positive change and some relationships to be rebuilt,” he said.