Police note big increase in firearm recoveries

In this file photo from April 2017, police investigate an armed robbery of the Foster’s Food Fair IGA Airport store, where a security officer was shot. It was one of 26 firearms-related crimes reported last year. - Photo: Taneos Ramsay

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service seized 29 illegal firearms last year, equaling the number of weapons seizures the department recorded in the prior two years combined.

According to figures presented last week, the police seized 15 illegal guns in 2016 and 14 in 2015.

Based on those figures, the average observer might conclude the Cayman Islands has a lot more illegal firearms on the streets now than it did a few years ago, but RCIPS Superintendent Brad Ebanks said that is not necessarily the case.

“We’ve just put a lot of focus on it,” Mr. Ebanks said, referring to gun crime.

Detection of firearms and drugs is almost entirely driven by proactive policing, Mr. Ebanks said last week during a press conference announcing Cayman’s month-long gun amnesty program in June.

In other words, if police are not out doing proactive traffic stops and searches, they will not find as many illegal drugs and guns.

RCIPS crime statistics seem to bear that out. During 2017, there were 25 crimes committed that involved firearms during a year in which police seized 29 illegal weapons. In 2016, police recorded 36 firearms-related crimes during a year in which just 15 guns were seized.

Police said that works out to a 31 percent, one-year drop in firearms-related crimes.

“The decrease in firearms crime occurred alongside a stark increase in the number of firearms recovered by police,” the RCIPS annual report for 2017 stated.

Between January 2015 and last month, 63 firearms have been seized in Cayman, according to the RCIPS.

That number does not include weapons turned in as a result of the gun amnesty, which began last Friday and which has already resulted in the return of one weapon to police.

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. The public is asked not to attempt to turn in firearms during the overnight hours.

Any weapons that are turned in must be unloaded and wrapped 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 were in the process of handing in the weapon.

Mr. Walton clarified during last week’s press conference that the amnesty includes clemency only for the person possessing the firearm. If the weapon can later be linked to crime via forensics, the perpetrators of that crime will not be protected.

Also, police note the public may also want to consider turning in legally held firearms that are no longer in use by their owners.

“These firearms include old, formerly licensed guns that could fall into the wrong hands,” a police statement on the gun amnesty said.