The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service will renew its focus on community policing under new Commissioner Derek Byrne, who said Wednesday that he intends to seek increased resources from government to put local officers back into neighborhoods.
“We know the concept of [community policing],” Mr. Byrne said. “We need to build capacity around that. We need to be embedded in communities … seeing neighborhood officers, speaking to schoolchildren, talking to people.”
Mr. Byrne, 57, said he realized coming into the new job – which he took up on Nov. 7 – that the RCIPS faces a perception problem when it comes to public trust.
“It takes a while to change perception,” he said. “But not everything at RCIPS is broken. There’s a lot of good stuff going on.”
In past years, the RCIPS neighborhood policing unit was slowly dismantled as daily calls for police service took priority. Yet, Mr. Byrne said, the kind of relationship building the police need when serious crimes occur, such as this week’s shooting death in George Town’s Scranton neighborhood, is fostered mainly through community police activities.
“We have to get to a stage where people can speak to us in a confidential way, and that’s something I’ll be working on,” the commissioner said.
The RCIPS received kudos recently for an operation targeting burglaries in North Side district – dubbed “Operation Wexford” – where the long-dormant North Side police station was reopened and officers were sent out to talk to residents along Rum Point Drive where nine burglaries or burglary attempts were reported within the past month.
Mr. Byrne said the police station was reopened on a temporary basis for the operation, and whether it would remain open would depend partly on funding. He said Wednesday that 80 percent of the annual police budget went to salaries, before any new policing initiatives could be considered.
“There is a shortage of resources … I don’t think there’s any big secret,” he said. “I have to make the case to government.”
Two other areas that the commissioner said are part and parcel of community policing, the RCIPS Traffic Management Unit and the Media Relations Office, also need some attention.
Mr. Byrne said he intends to put more resources into the traffic unit, particularly in the short term to deal with the problem of rogue dirt bikers on Grand Cayman’s roads.
In regard to media relations, now staffed by one civilian employee, he noted that the RCIPS’s social media and website use need to come around to the 21st century.
“Jackie [Carpenter, the public relations officer] is one lady and she needs support,” the commissioner said. “Media is so very important to policing.”
The commissioner met with Cabinet members as a group for the first time Tuesday and said he felt he would get support for policing initiatives once he presents a proper business case to elected members.
Commissioner Byrne did not dwell on the subject Wednesday, but he acknowledged that morale among “some officers” in the RCIPS is a significant problem.
The departure of former Police Commissioner David Baines, with several top lieutenants leaving in subsequent months, created some gaps in the police hierarchy, which the service was able to fill by moving two new superintendents into command positions and promoting long-serving Caymanian police officer Kurt Walton to deputy commissioner.
“I do get a sense from some personnel, not all, that morale is an issue,” Mr. Byrne said.
With Mr. Byrne at the top, the RCIPS command staff is more or less fully staffed, with Mr. Walton and Deputy Commissioner Anthony Ennis and Superintendents Pete Lansdown and Robert Graham. Also, a new superintendent was recently appointed to lead the financial crime unit.
Leaving the Garda
The commissioner was asked Wednesday why he left An Garda Siochana, the Irish national police force, after more than 36 years of service.
Mr. Byrne said he had been looking for “a leadership challenge” and felt there were not any advancement opportunities left at the Garda, where he had been an assistant commissioner for eight years.
He had applied unsuccessfully in 2014 for the leadership post at the former Royal Ulster Constabulary (now the Police Service of Northern Ireland), and that Cayman offered a chance to “move into the international policing environment.”