Police Commissioner Derek Byrne has denounced last Sunday’s disruptive motorbike ride around Grand Cayman, which he said demonstrated that the rogue bikers involved “have no regard for their safety or for the safety of anyone else.”
“Masked riders menacing other road users and flouting road laws is totally unacceptable, and the lack of an established [motorbike] track on island is no excuse for such behaviour,” Mr. Byrne said in a press release.
Hundreds of bikers took to the streets for most of the afternoon and early evening Sunday, popping wheelies, swerving in and out of traffic, blocking lanes and causing havoc, including the storming of a police roadblock in Bodden Town.
However, Commissioner Byrne, making his first public statement about the incident since it occurred, noted that while an “exhibitionist rogue element” within the motorbiking community put on a “deplorable public spectacle,” some of those involved in the ride did not behave dangerously or illegally. He also said that not all bikes involved in the ride were unregistered or uninsured.
“In such situations as took place last Sunday, police are presented with a range of tactical options which are largely dependent on the prevailing conditions,” Mr. Byrne said. “Very careful consideration and risk assessment is required to ensure that the actions of the police do not result in serious or fatal injuries to motorcyclists or innocent motorists or pedestrians.
“With regard to the prevailing conditions last Sunday, the tactical option employed was one of disruption as opposed to pursuit and arrest, which could have caused serious or fatal injuries to motorcyclists or road users. The event was disrupted, one person was arrested, and ten bikes were seized. The key outcome for the police and community is that there was no loss of life and no injuries.”
Mr. Byrne said police officers investigating the incident are still gathering evidence to arrest the illegal riders and seize their bikes, including reviewing CCTV and private video footage available. The RCIPS has taken some criticism from the community regarding to the fact that only one of the ride participants was arrested, but the commissioner said the measure of success for the police response Sunday should not be the number of arrests or prosecutions that result. Rather, he said, the goal must be the “reduction and disruption of illegal activity and dangerous riding on the road.”
“I accept that the RCIPS lost some ground on Sunday, but the community can be assured we are hard at work to tackle the problem,” Mr. Byrne said. “Enforcement that occurs will be firm, but proportionate and balanced, and done with consideration for public safety. However, enforcement alone will not resolve this problem.”
RCIPS Deputy Commissioner Kurt Walton is heading up a task force that will include customs, immigration and vehicle licensing officers, as well as some private sector representatives, to address the illegal motorbike issue, Mr. Byrne reiterated. The task force is attempted to speak with member of the local motorbiking community who want to ride legally and safely, he said.
Crown prosecutors confirmed that before Sunday’s ride, nine cases involving illegally operated motorbikes have been submitted to their office, six matters which are still before the courts, and three that ended with guilty pleas by the defendants.
The charges in each case generally relate to how the bike was being used at the time of alleged offense. They include driving an unlicensed or uninsured vehicle, dangerous driving, speeding, riding without a crash helmet, driving while disqualified, defective lights or brakes and failing to comply with a police signal. One case involves a drunk driving arrest.
“We understand and share the concerns of the community arising from the riding of motorbikes in an unsociable and potentially unlawful manner,” said Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards. “We have liaised closely with the RCIPS Traffic Unit with a view to assisting its efforts to address such behavior, through the lawful exercise of police powers.”
During intensive motorbike-related investigations this year, a total of 23 bikes have been seized, police said.
Before the Sunday “ride,” the RCIPS had identified 17 motorbike seizures the department made since its crackdown on the bikes began last December, following a similar massive motorbike ride around Grand Cayman.
Cases involving nine of those seized vehicles were closed due to insufficient evidence, according to a police statement issued in early November.
At the time that statement was made, police noted the director of public prosecutions’ office had declined to accept charges, but Ms. Richards said this week that was not correct.
The RCIPS clarified that eight of the nine cases they initially identified were “closed at the level of the Traffic Department,” meaning the investigating police officers decided there was not enough evidence to take the cases to court.
A department spokesperson said RCIPS was trying to determine the specific reasons why traffic officers made those decisions in each case and indicated they would report back when further information was obtained.
The RCIPS statement read: “At this time we can offer the following preliminary response on some of the closed cases pending further confirmation from the Traffic Management Unit. Some of the cases relate to bikes that were abandoned when the owner/rider fled and no registered owner was subsequently found. In another case the bike was reported stolen, the bike was located but no suspects were found.”
“In cases involving the riding of motorbikes in an unlawful manner, we recognize the clear public interest in the bringing of charges,” Ms. Richards said. “Whilst it is not our general policy to comment on individual charging decisions – particularly where a charge has not been brought – it goes without saying that a charge cannot be brought unless sufficient admissible evidence exists to provide a realistic prospect of conviction of an identifiable individual for an offence.”