A Kia sedan that crashed through a fence on Shamrock Road on Jan. 8 lay on its side for more than three days in the high grass along the busy road before it was removed.
Just down the road, opposite Savannah Primary School, an SUV with its front end missing from a crash before Christmas, sat by the roadside for weeks until it was picked up on Jan. 11.
Although both vehicles were involved in relatively serious accidents, which caused injuries to some of the drivers or passengers, they did not require police seizure for accident reconstruction or court evidence. According to Royal Cayman Islands Police Service policy since at least 2015, it is not the department’s responsibility to tow those wrecked vehicles.
The RCIPS has previously stated that the department has neither the budget nor the storage space to tow and keep seriously damaged vehicles from all of the accidents that occur. In the case of what the police consider to be a “major” accident, with fatal injuries, or a large number of vehicles involved, etc., the police will tow the cars to an impound lot where they are kept as evidence.
However, if the crash is not considered a major incident, even if there is serious damage to the vehicle or vehicles involved and the cars are not drivable, the general policy is to move the cars out of the public right of way, clean up debris left from the crash, and leave the vehicles there.
If the car is left at the crash scene for an extended period, it will eventually be towed by the Department of Environmental Health at the owner’s expense.
Responding to less serious vehicle wrecks, even those where the cars are not being towed, consumes a significant number of police patrol hours, according to Deputy Commissioner Anthony Ennis.
In instances where vehicles have collided, even if there is significant damage and no one is hurt, the matter can be cleared off the road and dealt with by insurance adjusters. Currently, the law does not require police to respond to minor-damage accidents, though they sometimes do.
“How often are you traveling down the street and a fender-bender is blocking up traffic and they’re waiting for the police to come?” Mr. Ennis said. “Most of the time, it’s just for insurance purposes. Get the car out of the way.”
The police service’s workload, particularly in responding to what the department considered “non-emergency” calls for service, is illustrated in records kept by the 911 Emergency Centre.
In the 2011/12 budget year, the 911 center staff processed nearly 12,000 calls for service, including police, fire and ambulance calls. The next budget year, the number of calls processed by 911 staff exceeded 30,000 – near tripling in one year.
The reason for the increase, according to the 911 center’s annual report for 2015, was that non-emergency RCIPS dispatch calls were added to the reports being processed by the center. The number of calls increased to nearly 32,000 in 2014 and increased again to nearly 34,000 in 2015 – the latest year for which records are available.
RCIPS commanders have spoken of the need to lessen officers’ burdens with routine traffic enforcement issues and other matters, such as serving witness summonses to court. However, the department said it is also planning a public awareness campaign in the coming months to inform residents about when calling for police service is appropriate, and when it is not.
Reducing the need for police service in “non-emergency” situations would free up police officers to perform their primary functions – maintaining law and order – Mr. Ennis said last year.
“I think we have sufficient personnel to get the job done if we can … get rid of a lot of the things that do not require a police officer to do,” Mr. Ennis said.