In policing, details matter. The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service’s crackdown on illegally tinted windows may seem like a small thing, but it sends a message that Cayman is a country of laws that are in place to be obeyed – not to be ignored, inconsistently enforced or “winked at.”
Police issued 323 tickets to drivers whose vehicles had illegally tinted windows over the previous two months. In the same period, police issued 546 tickets for speeding, 25 for dangerous driving, 41 for careless driving and 67 for driving while using a mobile phone. Law enforcement’s renewed emphasis on moving violations is welcome.
Although in this editorial space we have nagged about the issue of tinted windows (either enforce the law or get rid of it,) we would concede that the offense in and of itself hardly falls into the category of “major crime.” Yes, tinted windows obscure police officers’ view of what is going inside a vehicle (which may contain drugs, firearms or a person wanted by police), and vice versa, drivers’ view of road conditions.
But what is most important, in terms of law enforcement, is that having illegally tinted windows is an obvious, meaning visible, contravention of the law.
Ironically, a theory of law enforcement gets its name not from tinted windows, per se, but “broken windows,” in particular. When Rudy Giuliani served as mayor of New York City, he and his police commissioner, William Bratton, embraced the thinking of sociologist James Q. Wilson who posited that law enforcement officials can greatly increase peace and urban tranquility by addressing relatively minor offenses (such as hooligans breaking windows).
Locally, we would add to the “broken windows” list illegal motorbikes, derelict and abandoned automobiles, aggressive drivers and violations of vehicle safety standards.
As long as they are enforcing the law to the extent of their abilities and resources, the RCIPS should not bear the brunt of the criticism about the ubiquity of tinted windows. Indeed, the most effective way to banish illegally tinted windows from Cayman’s roadways is for vehicle inspectors (whether working for government or private auto shops) to refuse to sign off on automobiles and trucks with illegal tint, obscured license plates, and other violations of the law.
It is ironic, is it not, that the government is now contemplating $10,000 fines for motorists who do not properly display the new electronic license tags, yet vehicle inspectors routinely turn a blind eye to unreadable opaque-filtered license plates. Go figure.
Further, when police issue citations and make arrests for any offense, they should do so with confidence that prosecutors will pursue viable cases and courts will deliberate and arrive at decisions in an efficient and timely manner.
Clearly, “tinted windows” are not the equivalent of more serious criminal activity, such as robberies, assaults or murders. It is not necessarily true, or even correlative, that people who flout Cayman’s “minor” laws are the same people who pose a real menace to Cayman’s society. Certainly we’re not contending that tinted windows are a “gateway” offense that leads to more serious infractions.
But when low-level offenders are allowed to commit petty crimes without consequence, respect for the law (as well as society) is the real victim.