Watchful neighbours help identify vandalism suspects

Carol Hay and Steve Hawley say their neighborhood watch group helped quickly identify suspected vandals who caused damage to the Websters Estates area early Friday morning. – Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

Residents of the Websters Estates area in George Town say old-fashioned community connection along with modern technology led to two suspects being identified less than 24 hours after the neighbourhood was vandalised.

During the early morning hours Friday, vandals broke car windows and spray-painted vehicles, smashed in the front door of one premises, and defaced walls and signs in Websters Estates, off Walkers Road.

The same two suspects, who were arrested and released on bail, have also been tied to a break-in at John Gray High School on Wednesday night. In that incident, police said in a statement, “several computers were smashed, other additional property was damaged and a fire extinguisher was stolen”.

Both incidents, which police said involved a dozen offences, have resulted in damage worth tens of thousands of dollars. At Websters Estate, at least three cars were vandalised and a front door was smashed, in addition to the defaced signs and walls.

“I’ve never seen as much damage as this,” said Websters Estates resident Steve Hawley of the vandalism in his neighbourhood. “They just went on a spree.”

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Acting Sergeant Jonathan Kern of the George Town Community Policing Sector said, “Vandalism on this scale is unusual in Cayman, and while it has been unsettling for the community of Websters Estates, they have come together in a spirit of problem-solving which we have been happy to support.”

Much of the graffiti had already been painted over by Monday morning and at least one sprayed-over street sign had been replaced.

Hawley said Websters Estates has a well-established neighbourhood watch programme. When anyone notices something out of the ordinary, they alert the network via email. The first such emails went out shortly after 8am Friday. Police had contacted the group by email by 9:30am and sent an officer to the scene.

“By the time the police came, there was a wealth of information” gathered by the network, Hawley said.

Neighbours checked security cameras and footage showing two youths was later posted on social media. And on Saturday night, the mother of one of the suspected youths turned him in to police. The second suspect was arrested the next day.

Graffiti featuring a shooting gun was among the items spray-painted on walls in the early hours of Friday morning. – Photos: Ken Silva

Hawley said the case illustrates how effective neighbourhood watch programmes can be. He’s hoping others will be encouraged to implement similar networks in their own neighbourhoods.

MLA Barbara Conolly got word of the vandalism Friday morning and visited the scene. She said she is tied in with several neighbourhood watch programmes in the South Sound area she represents and receives alerts mostly through WhatsApp groups. The 75 residents that make up the Websters group is about average for the neighbourhood watch programmes she’s familiar with, she said.

She was happy to see how quickly the incident seems to have been solved by the apprehension of two boys. Police have not identified the youths, who were both arrested and later bailed into the custody of their parents. Conolly said she believed they were 13 or 14 years old.

“I want to commend the mother of one of these boys, who took her son in to the police,” she said. “I would like to meet with the parents.”

As the government’s councillor for youth, she said, she is hoping services can be provided to set the children on the right path.

“Incarceration is not the answer,” she said. “They’re crying out for attention.”

Conolly encouraged interested people to join or get involved in establishing their own neighbourhood watch programmes.

Websters resident Carol Hay said the neighbourhood watch group has been around for many years.

“We had a few incidents of theft 10 to 15 years ago, so we all tend to look out for each other and we all have our own internal network,” Hay said. “If anything suspicious happens we immediately get on the internet.”

She hopes the case serves as a deterrent for others.

“We want them to know that this area will get you,” she said. “Websters will get you, and fast. Not today, Bobo.”

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