RCIPS gun amnesty: Now it’s personal

Police Superintendent Brad Ebanks, left, and Deputy Commissioner Kurt Walton announce the RCIPS June gun amnesty program Thursday, May 31. - Photo: Brent Fuller

For Royal Cayman Islands Police Superintendent Brad Ebanks, a firearms amnesty this month is personal.

“I’ve dedicated the rest of my policing career to fighting illegal firearms in this country,” said Mr. Ebanks, the head of the RCIPS firearms unit and the Joint Marine Unit. “[David] was my stepson.”

Superintendent Ebanks’s stepson David Ruben Ebanks, 20, was shot to death during a spate of gun violence in January 2015 – apparently David was not the intended target of the shooting.

“Having gone through that, now I know what other families feel,” he said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t realize when they pull that trigger, it’s a life changer. Nothing remains the same after that.

“Over the past 12 years, 35 young men have been killed with a firearm in the Cayman Islands. We now have 33 young men currently serving time at Northward Prison also in relation to firearms [possession]. Both numbers are much too high.”

Starting Friday, the RCIPS is offering clemency for anyone who voluntarily turns in a firearm – regardless of whether it is legally or illegally held – to a local police station or at a number of participating churches, where pastors have volunteered to collect the weapons. Cayman Crime Stoppers will also process tips on weapons held and will work with local police to ensure any firearms people want to surrender get into the right hands.

The amnesty period will last from June 1 to June 30 and weapons may be turned in between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. each day.

Any weapons that are turned in must be unloaded and wrapped up in a plastic bag with duct tape around it. Any ammunition turned in during the period would also have to be wrapped separately in a similar fashion when it is turned in.

RCIPS Deputy Commissioner Kurt Walton said the wrapping is done for safety, but also to ensure that if a police officer pulls over a vehicle inside of which an illegal firearm is found during the amnesty period, the people in the vehicle cannot simply claim they are in the process of handing in the weapon.

Unless the weapon is wrapped up and located in the vehicle’s trunk, the officer making the traffic stop would take the “necessary action,” Mr. Walton said.

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Churches involved

This will be the fourth such firearms amnesty period the RCIPS has held since 2005. However, previous attempts in 2010 and 2011 to get people to turn their weapons in did not use local churches in the effort.

Pastors at 11 local churches have volunteered to receive weapons from the public during this month.

Pastor Alson Ebanks of the Church of God Chapel said the previous firearm amnesty period in 2005 did use churches as a place where people could hand over weapons, but he said this time around the effort appeared to be much more organized.

Pastor Ebanks said he was asked, during one gun handoff in 2005, to visit West Bay, pick up a firearm and bring it back into George Town.

“I was nervous about that … something could happen between receiving and delivering it,” he said.

During this month’s effort, Deputy Commissioner Walton said the churches have been given specific instructions about how to handle any weapons they receive and are told they must contact police immediately upon receipt.

Pastor Ebanks said he had two weapons turned into him during the 2005 amnesty effort.

“If we can take one gun that could be used in a crime … off the streets, we can be of help, that’s fine,” he said.

Previous amnesties

The 2005 gun amnesty recovered 19 firearms in Grand Cayman and one on Cayman Brac. In 2010, a total of 26 weapons were handed over including handguns, a shotgun, a flare gun, a crossbow, an explosives detonator and a grenade. Police also collected 233 rounds of ammunition.

In 2011, the last amnesty conducted by the RCIPS, 825 rounds of ammo were turned in, along with one handgun and one pellet gun.

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