Public safety is the bedrock of the Cayman Islands. Upon it is founded our community, our economy and our continuing prosperity.
What sets Cayman apart from other islands that have been similarly blessed with sun-kissed shores and turquoise seas is the ever-present feeling of security of self and property.
Slowly but inexorably, we may be watching our country’s most valuable asset slip away, not unlike Seven Mile Beach sand through our fingers.
Last weekend’s shoot-out between armed robbers and police officers is a new and most dangerous high-water marker in an incoming tide of serious criminality. Consider the circumstances:
Czech Inn owner Jiri Zitterbart, his wife and 9-year-old son were closing up shop in their Bodden Town establishment on Saturday night when two men appeared, brandishing weapons and demanding money from the till.
Upon receiving the report, police gave chase to a stolen red Honda SUV believed to be the getaway car. The suspects fled, first in the vehicle and then by foot – exchanging gunfire with pursuing officers. The two men escaped and are currently at large – armed and dangerous, as the saying goes – among our populace.
The brazen holdup followed another armed robbery earlier in the evening at Rollin Convenience Shop in George Town. Only days before, yet another gunpoint robbery – this one of a 25-year-old man and his pregnant girlfriend – took place outside their Prospect home.
Not many years ago, any one of those series of events involving firearms would have been an aberration, unheard of in our tranquil community. Today they have become commonplace.
In fact, robberies at stores, gas stations, private residences and public beaches, not to mention gang-related shootings and retaliatory shootings, have become such a regular occurrence that on busy “news days,” they may not even make the front page of the Compass.
At the same time, police officers themselves have become targets of attacks – including verbal abuse, physical assaults, and even acts of arson.
To date, the response – by police, by politicians and particularly by the populace – has not been commensurate to the gravity of the situation.
Perhaps lulled into comfortable complacency by Cayman’s peaceful past, our country’s officials have been hoping the troubling trends will simply “go away.”
They will not. Cancers, be they medical or social, never improve without intervention. And we are not talking about divine intervention. We’re talking about a tough, no-nonsense approach from our soon-to-be governor, our politicians, our police, the Office of Public Prosecutions and, particularly, our courts.
Here’s a place to start:
Everyone has heard the phrase “hiding in plain sight.” In Cayman, many of our resident malefactors are in “plain sight,” but they’re not hiding because they have no fear of being arrested, prosecuted and successfully convicted.
Every time a police officer witnesses an infraction of the law – whether it is a motorbiker doing “wheelies” (with no license tag in sight) or a local resident smoking dope or displaying any other antisocial or illegal activity – and decides to turn his or her head, that officer is, in effect, aiding and abetting the breaking of the law.
It must stop, and it is Commissioner Derek Byrne’s duty and responsibility, as our chief law ENFORCEMENT officer, to be certain it does.
Millions of people come to our islands to visit, invest and live, lured by the assurance of public safety.
The body politic, like the human body, can be only as healthy as its weakest organ. Just as a weak heart can kill a person who is in otherwise excellent health, losing control of public safety with certainty will erode our quality of life and impair our island’s future. We must not allow that to happen.