On March 21, a suspected cockfighting ring in Newlands was broken up and 80 roosters seized.
On April 13 in West Bay, an illegal lottery parlor in West Bay was put out of business.
On July 2 in George Town, an elderly woman who had fallen after having difficulty breathing was rescued by police who knew the neighborhood well enough to find her, even though she could not tell 911 her exact address.
One thing these disparate events have in common is that Royal Cayman Islands Police community beat officers played a role in all of them.
“[The community] said something, they were heard and it was acted upon,” RCIPS Commissioner Derek Byrne told the Cayman Compass Monday.
Mr. Byrne, who launched the revamped community police service in February, said the specialized force had now been expanded to 35 officers, including a supervising inspector and four police sergeants. The department has also staffed up police stations in East End and North Side districts – each of which has four officers – supervised by Police Sergeant Davis Scott.
Police cautioned that it could be some time before the public saw the effectiveness of community policing – embedding select officers within certain defined areas to be the “point of contact” for residents and, hopefully, building their trust.
In practice, it has not taken that long for results to occur. Another cock-fighting ring was busted on June 6 at North Sound Road, George Town. An arrest was made on Bodden Town’s Coe Wood Public Beach on April 21 for suspected money laundering.
“Community officers [are] interacting with the public and providing a positive face for the organization. That is just one aspect of what they do,” said RCIPS Superintendent Robbie Graham. “Offenses such as cock-fighting and other illegal gambling often lead to other, more serious crimes.
“One of the major goals of the Community Policing Department is to put a stop to these kinds of activities before they have a chance to take root.”
When these operations occur, it is not community beat officers going out and acting alone, Mr. Byrne said. In the case of the cockfighting investigations, tips received by community officers were passed along to police patrol operations, which then developed a plan of attack. That plan included the involvement of animal-control staff from the Department of Agriculture.
“It’s a bit of everything,” Mr. Byrne said. “The [community police] sergeants tell us what’s going on … they pass it along to the command structure, who decides how to act on a certain situation. Certainly in the case of the cock-fighting, that’s what happened.”
The difference, from the police chief’s perspective, is that there is now a “structure” in place to community policing. Officers who find out information know where to go with it, and the RCIPS command staff is kept constantly informed about what the street-level officers are up to.
Information received by officers must be kept confidential, but perhaps just as importantly, it must be acted upon, Mr. Byrne said.
“If we don’t close that cycle, what’s the point of somebody coming back and saying something else?” he said. “We hear this all the time from the public. ‘I’m not prepared to tell you something if you’re not going to do something about it.’”
One constant refrain community police are hearing from the public is the need for more officers in Cayman’s less-populated districts, where vacant vacation properties and clear roads have served as invitations to burglars and illegal motorbikers in the past few years.
The RCIPS had already opened both the North Side and East End district stations, staffing them with two police officers apiece as of last year.
That staffing has now been doubled, with a total of four officers in each district. It still will not be enough to run a full-time, 24-hour police station in each area, however, because the officers will be out patrolling for most of their shifts.
“That’s where they should be – out on the road, telling us what’s happening,” Mr. Byrne said.
The two stations will be staffed during clearly posted hours, probably no more than two or three hours at a time. At some point, a clerical staff worker may be brought in to answer the phones during the daytime hours, but that decision has not been made yet.
The community policing officers have also received a donation of 22 smartphones, purchased by Cayman Crime Stoppers.
At the moment, many community officers do not have the devices, which means they cannot communicate with various neighborhood watch groups and other chat groups using the WhatsApp function.
“Officers are excited to explore the use of smartphones specifically as tools for community policing, which means better communication with residents, but also the ability to receive photos and information quickly,” said Inspector Courtney Myles, who heads the community policing department.
Mr. Byrne said this is becoming a critical law enforcement tool, because individuals generally feel secure giving information to police over an encrypted messaging service.
“This now makes those officers more accessible,” he said.
The 22 phones will not cover all the community policing officers, but Mr. Byrne said the RCIPS will purchase the rest.