As the coronavirus crisis took over the Cayman Islands in early March, police found themselves facing a manpower shortage.
With strict new rules to enforce and the possibility of losing front-line officers to illness or quarantine, the call went out for reinforcements and personnel from a range of uniformed services stepped up.
Customs and Border Control, the enforcement arm of Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman, and the Special Constabulary all helped ensure there were sufficient boots on the ground.
A handful of retired police officers even called to offer their support and were put back to work, helping man roadblocks, patrol supermarkets and enforce curfews and restrictions on movement.
As many of those officers begin to return to their day jobs, Deputy Commissioner of Police Anthony Ennis paid tribute to their service.
“They have represented their respective agencies tremendously well,” he said.
“We are in a much stronger position now thanks to their support.”
He said more than 50 officers from various agencies had helped swell the ranks and ensure police had the “resilience and capacity” to meet the extraordinary demands of the past few months.
With the curfews beginning to be relaxed, that deployment has come to an end for some of the auxiliary officers.
“We would love to see if they could extend their time with us,” said Ennis.
“But obviously they have to return to other duties as the country continues to open up.”
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Smooth transition for customs officers
Marlon Bodden, deputy director of Customs and Border Control, said he had been in the middle of a high-level meeting with government officials about plans for the agency when he found out his team was being called in to support the police.
“Chief Officer Wesley Howell came into the meeting and said, ‘Everything you have been discussing so far is great but will have to be put on hold, you are assisting the police with law and order’. That’s when we knew something big was happening,” he recalled.
Bodden said it had been a smooth transition for his team to work alongside the police. CBC officers have the powers of police constables and many of them, including Bodden and CBC Director Charles Clifford, were previously with the RCIPS.
After nearly three months supporting the police, CBC officers returned to their day jobs this week, but Bodden said they were on standby to redeploy if needed.
“We stand ready and have given the undertaking that if something was to happen, we are happy to go back into the trenches,” he said.
He expects his officers will have a big role to play in policing the borders as courier services reopen and air travel slowly begins to resume.
Aspects of the job, including how CBC officers interact with passengers, will have to change, and training in post-COVID protocols is a big part of the immediate future for the agency.
“We will have different protocols in place but we won’t be easing up,” Bodden said.
“We understand that criminals don’t do risk assessments before they move their ill-gotten gains. We are not going to compromise border control because of the virus.”
Back to WORC
For WORC officers, boots-on-the-ground policing was less familiar territory.
Formerly the enforcement arm of the immigration department, WORC staff are used to dealing with work-permit and residency violations. Only one member of staff had previous police experience.
“It is a very different set of skills but we are proud that we were able to help,” said Jeremy Scott, WORC acting director.
Mervin Manderson, head of WORC’s compliance division, joined his officers on patrol during the crisis. He admits there were a few “wide-eyed stares” when he informed his team that they would be part of regular police patrols.
But, he said, they had stepped up when they were needed and had relished the challenge.
“It gave me a real sense of pride and showed me that when the country is in need, we have people willing to put themselves on the line to serve,” he said.
The WORC officers also returned to their day jobs this week. Manderson said his team was seeing a rise in demand for assistance with issues relating to work permits and national workforce development.
“We anticipate an increase over the next few months, and we have seen some of that already,” he added.
Volunteer force went above and beyond
The Special Constabulary, a volunteer squad which provides support to police on weekends and evenings, also played a huge role. At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, many officers who had been furloughed or let go from their day jobs worked full time with the police.
Commandant Chris Duggan said, “We are a volunteer force but some of our officers have really taken that to the next level. A number of people really stepped up to the plate in extenuating circumstances.”
Duggan said the job had been made easier by the response of the community.
“We had initial concerns about the restrictions on people’s liberty but the way the community responded was exemplary,” he said. “It is testament to the Cayman way. In times of crisis, we get galvanised as a community, working together for the good of the country.”
For Deputy Commissioner of Police Ennis, the teamwork and attitude of all those agencies and volunteers that stepped in to help the police is one of the bright spots of a dark time for the islands.
“This is something that will stay with me beyond my career – to experience the camaraderie and see how people came together was just phenomenal,” he said. “This is the kind of thing you live for as a police officer.”