Imagine: An 11-year-old girl gathers the courage to tell an adult that she’s been sexually assaulted by two relatives.
She recounts for a stranger – a Royal Cayman Islands Police Service officer – all the details she can recall, reliving the horrors of that alleged crime.
What happens next? The officer’s notes on the case are misplaced, and her report is allowed to languish. Her alleged assailants are not even questioned for nearly two years. By the time they finally are tried in court – four years later – the evidence is so poorly gathered and maintained that it was impossible for a judge to determine whether it proved the defendants’ guilt or innocence.
Finally, the girl learns the reason her case was so mismanaged: The officers were busy.
That is the conclusion reached by three U.K. officers tasked with reviewing the RCIPS Family Support Unit after a judge publicly lambasted police for the unraveling of the case mentioned above. Nearly a year after Justice Timothy Owen found two men not guilty of indecent assault, not because they demonstrated their innocence at trial but because of an inexplicably delayed and “grossly incompetent” police investigation into the report.
Police released a summary of their review last Friday. It told a tale of overworked and under-resourced police officers at the Family Support Unit who were trying to juggle too many cases at one time.
The review found the unit performed satisfactorily in 89 of the 92 investigations it considered since 2012. It flagged three cases that occurred between 2012 and 2014 that were not. Two of those cases likely will be abandoned. The third may be taken to court, despite its having “serious errors.”
To his credit, Police Commissioner Derek Byrne (who arrived in Cayman in November 2016, well after the errors occurred) has responded with decency, integrity and true leadership. Rather than attempting to brush aside the report’s findings, or make scapegoats out of rank-and-file officers, Commissioner Byrne has called out the “corporate failures” that allowed such grave errors to be made.
“You had people working down there … [in] small teams, [case] referrals being made, people running from one case to another without finishing it, not supported by any process, or any structure, or any audit, or any regular meetings,” he said.
“There was an over-reliance on some persons; some persons had a better capacity to manage their work. Other persons, unfortunately, didn’t have that self-management capability or capacity,” Mr. Byrne said.
Notably, the commissioner did not try to bury the critical report or send out an insipid press release late on a Friday afternoon; instead he called a news conference where, flanked by his top commanders, he took ownership of the issues, pledged to make needed improvements – and apologized to victims.
“While we’re getting it wrong, it impacts upon the victim at some level,” he said.
As a result of the investigation, one police constable and one supervisor have been reassigned. Since last year, police have overhauled procedures for handling family unit cases.
Today, the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (the MASH unit) – a team of police officers, social workers and a Health Services Authority psychologist – investigates reports of suspected child abuse and coordinates with other public agencies.
As Commissioner Byrne said last week, “We have not met our obligations in the past, but we’re moving forward.”