EDITORIAL – Public safety: Making sense of crime statistics

There was good news and bad news in the annual crime statistics released last week by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service. Most notable, perhaps, being the sizable drop in burglaries reported in 2018 – down to 324 from 510 the previous year – representing an 18-year low.

As the Compass reported last week, Bodden Towners saw the biggest year-over-year improvement. There were only 67 break-ins in that district in 2018, compared with 157 the previous year.

Road safety statistics were also somewhat rosier, if still abysmal. Certainly, it helped that the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service traffic unit was back on patrol last year, enforcing traffic laws. RCIPS officers issued 2,128 speeding tickets in 2018 – more than triple the number of tickets issued in 2017. They booked 328 people for driving under the influence, up from 253 the previous year.

There were 14% fewer collisions on our roadways in 2018 than in 2017. Even so, the 2,353 traffic accidents – more than six per day – are far too many for our tiny islands. Eight people lost their lives and 35 others were seriously injured in roadway accidents last year, each tragic instance inflicting incalculable loss and grief.

Concerningly, the year-over-year comparisons show a slight increase in the number of crimes against people. There were four murders last year, compared to two in 2017, and nine attempted murders in 2018, compared to four the previous year. Assaults and robberies both increased (from 379 to 448 and 30 to 40, respectively).

But it is important not to read too much into these annual statistics. For all the interesting insights that can be gleaned through year-over-year comparisons, not everything of value can be measured in numbers. Comparisons themselves can mislead. Take Cayman’s murder rate, which, strictly speaking, doubled over the period in question, from two to four. That does not mean Cayman is half as safe.

The sharp increase in reports of domestic violence (up to 2,210 from fewer than 1,000) and child safety issues (747 from 491) could be at least partially due to a lower tolerance for domestic violence in our community and an increased awareness and willingness to report abuse.

Indeed, in all these ‘ups and downs’, it is important to remember that our islands remain overwhelmingly safe by every measure. Police logged a total of 3,453 crimes in 2018 – a decrease of 3% on the previous year. Only about one-third of those were ‘serious crimes’.

As Police Commissioner Derek Byrne said, “We would obviously prefer if we had no crime, but the figures are manageable in terms of the jurisdiction we are in.”

Our minds are drawn to annual statistics because we want to know how things are going. But our community’s safety comes down to very human factors. Neighbours keeping a watchful eye for suspicious activity, tipsters sharing valuable information, police apprehending and courts convicting a few dozen ‘frequent flyers’ – these are the ways we can work together to keep our islands safe.

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