Two-thirds of the officers currently employed in the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service are age 40 or above, while fewer than 5 percent of officers now wearing the RCIPS uniform are aged 28 years or younger, according to department statistics released to the Cayman Compass last week.
The records reveal that out of 365 uniformed officers just 17 (4.7 percent) were between ages 18-28 at the time the statistics were tallied last month. Eighteen is the minimum age one must attain before joining the local police service.
On the other hand, 237 police officers, representing 65 percent of the department, were between the ages of 40 and 59. An additional seven police officers were over age 60, according to the records.
About 42 percent of the officers fell between the 40-49 age range, while some 23 percent were between ages 50-59.
The relative proportion of older RCIPS officers is not of great concern to the force’s senior commanders, but the spare few younger officers is a worry, according to officials, especially as the department considers who will be leading it in years to come.
“As has been the case in most jurisdictions, recruitment can be a challenging process as young people now have more options, often lucrative ones, available to them than ever before,” Acting RCIPS Commissioner Anthony Ennis said. “[Those options] present less risks and favorable rewards or incentives.”
“It takes a very unique person to become a police officer and commit to it for the long haul,” the senior officer continued. “Selfless service is required, even in the face of danger and an anti-police climate.”
Mr. Ennis said the police service was recruiting younger, local candidates and had done so successfully with cadet classes for Caymanians and permanent residents in each of the past three years. In the current budget year, the police service is seeking funding for two local recruit classes.
However, local recruitment efforts have never really managed to keep up with attrition and the RCIPS is still being forced to go outside the territory to bring in experienced, often older officers, mostly from the U.K., Jamaica or other Commonwealth countries. Officers from 15 different countries now serve in the local police and about 32 percent of serving RCIPS officers are Jamaican.
“We have been working hard to reach these young people and communicate how rewarding a career in policing can be,” Mr. Ennis said. “[In addition to the local recruitment classes], we recently engaged in a joint job fair with both the fire service and the prison service to expand efforts in this regard and reach as many job seekers as possible. However, this remains a challenge as we compete with other occupations that provide better financial rewards and work-life balance, especially with raising a family.”
The RCIPS website advertises police constable recruits’ starting pay at between $32,000 and $44,000 per year. If the recruits stay on through their two-year probationary period, the salary band increases to between $39,000 and $53,436 per year.
The police service, attempting to retain more officers and recruit new ones, recently negotiated a pay raise for officers with government, but former Police Commissioner David Baines said that increase had been effected by moving money around within the existing budget, not through an overall spending increase for police.
As Mr. Ennis noted, police agencies around the globe have been experiencing problems with recruiting younger officers. For instance, statistics reported in the British press showed the number of younger officers (age 26 and under) had dropped by nearly half across the U.K. between 2009 and 2012.
The city of Minneapolis in the U.S. reported in 2012 that 64 percent of its police officers were 40 or older and that pending retirements of older police officers could place the police force there in a staffing crunch.
Age just a number?
Typically, more experienced officers who are brought in from outside jurisdictions, particularly those placed in specialist roles, are paid more for that experience and RCIPS officials said they did not want to downplay the importance of having a number of older, and perhaps wiser heads on the force as well.
“Maturity and experience is very much an asset for today’s police officer, given the diverse roles and situations that officers are increasingly expected to perform and manage, as well as the level of expertise and education required,” Mr. Ennis said. “Also, we do not subscribe to age discrimination either, provided that the individual passes the fitness tests required, is healthy and understands his or her work as a police officer.”
Certain jobs at RCIPS require a higher level of physical fitness than others. For instance, those police officers in the armed units or tactical response have stricter fitness requirements. But the department said all officers are “encouraged” to stay minimally fit.
Having older and better-educated officers “on the beat” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, according to a 2008 study done by retired police officer James McElvain and Augustine Kposowa of the University of California, Riverside.
According to an abstract of the study: “Data from 186 officer-involved shootings were used to examine whether race effects existed and, if so, would be eliminated or attenuated by controlling for officer gender, education, age, and history of shooting. College-educated officers were less likely to be involved in shootings than officers with no college education. Risk of officer-involved shooting was reduced as the officer aged.”
In an article printed this month in the U.S.-based Police Chief Magazine, California police Captain James P. Henchey considers the issue of aging police forces to be one of planning, which, he opined, many police forces do not do very well. Mr. Henchey states his belief that it will be a potential leadership crisis, rather than a staffing crisis, that police departments face in the future.
“Traditionally, law enforcement has left career planning to the individual,” he wrote. “Assumptions are made that there will be succession in leadership to those who aspire to promote. Law enforcement organizations have, for the most part, abdicated the responsibility of leadership skill development to off-site trainers or the individual officer.
“Individual police agencies must do a better job of providing structured career development programs for future leaders. Historically, law enforcement organizations focus well on the task of serving their respective communities but tend to neglect internal personnel development needs due to logistical or budgetary reasons. As a result, police organizations risk promoting weak or inexperienced leaders.”
The RCIPS noted it has initiated a development scheme for local officers to accomplish just the type of leadership training Captain Henchey wrote about.
“The High Potential Development Scheme was introduced to provide promising Caymanian constables additional opportunities to develop leadership skills and experience, and be considered for expedited promotion for exceptional candidates,” an RCIPS statement indicated, adding that one officer, Inspector Leo Anglin of the Marine Unit, had been identified as one such candidate. “These recruitment drives and initiatives provide regular opportunities to apply, as well as accelerated advancement specifically for Caymanians.”