In a packed bar, a young man brazenly waves a hunting knife in an image that police warn symbolises an alarming escalation in knife crime in the Cayman Islands.
The man in the picture, taken from CCTV footage at a popular venue, is being sought by police on weapons charges.
Senior officers are concerned about a rise in violent crime in the past month, culminating in a bloody seven-day period during which one person was killed and two others were left with severe injuries after being stabbed in alcohol-fuelled conflicts.
“The critical care unit at George Town Hospital saved two lives in the past week,” Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne told the Cayman Compass.
“We could have been looking at three murders instead of one.”
Detectives say the incidents are not connected to gangs and there is no clear motive for any of the crimes, other than the dangerous combination of weapons and alcohol.
Detective Superintendent Peter Lansdown said there had been at least half-a-dozen serious violent incidents around Cayman’s late night bars and nightclubs since COVID-19-lockdown restrictions were lifted.
He described the recent violence as the consequence of a growing trend of people carrying concealed weapons.
“It was escalating towards the end of last year and it slowed down during COVID. Now it has started again with a vengeance.”
There have been 32 crimes involving serious violence, including murder or attempted murder, so far this year and 21 of those involved a bladed weapon.
Byrne said the issue would be on the agenda of the National Security Council at its next meeting.
He said police would be increasing ‘stop and search’ patrols and working with night clubs to beef up security to prevent people bringing weapons through the door.
Being caught with a concealed weapon can lead to a jail sentence of up to four years under Cayman’s Penal Code.
From an enforcement perspective, Byrne said police view it as seriously as possession of a firearm.
“They are both serious offences, they are both lethal weapons,” he said.
Nightclub security requirements
The commissioner is looking for cooperation from clubs and bars, particularly those that serve alcohol into the early hours of the morning.
“They have got to be more alert to these issues and we have got to work with them in partnership,” he said.
Byrne wants to see new security standards enforced as a condition of licence for those venues that participate in the “night-time economy”.
He said high-quality CCTV inside and out, trained security guards, and body scanners at the door should be standard.
He also wants to see female security guards at venues to assist with pat-downs of female customers, amid concerns that they are smuggling weapons into clubs.
Police will meet with the Liquor Licensing Board and club owners next week to discuss the issue.
“You can’t bring a knife to the airport, you shouldn’t be able to bring a knife to a disco,” Byrne said. “We are injecting ourselves into the licensing process and saying this should be a precondition of the licence.”
Police say there is no obvious explanation for the increase in people carrying knives in public.
Lansdown said the vast majority of the knife crimes that his detectives were investigating were petty disputes that flared up in nightclubs and spilled out into violent assaults on the streets as the bars closed.
“After people have been drinking excessively for quite some period, it gets out of control,” he said.
A serious stabbing on Monday evening in George Town started with a dispute over a dominoes game. Police believe the melee that ensued on Saturday morning in the parking lot of The Strand shopping centre stemmed from a series of minor conflicts that escalated into murder.
Byrne said anyone who brought a knife on a night out automatically raised the stakes of any dispute.
“These are disputes that happen in nightclubs when people have had a lot to drink,” he said. “You can’t reconcile that with going outside with a knife and taking someone’s life.”
He said anyone who carried a weapon risked ruining their own lives and someone else’s over relatively minor disputes, and he urged people to put down their weapons.
“We are not talking about juveniles; we are talking about people in their 20s. These are adults, some of them working in responsible jobs, and they need to take responsibility and stop carrying knives.
“If you carry a knife, then you have that intent [to use it],” he said, “If you use that knife, it is pure luck if it is not fatal.”
Police are also appealing to the public to treat knife crime more seriously and to report incidents of anyone carrying weapons.
Lansdown said detectives spent almost as much time trying to chase witnesses as they did looking for suspects.
“There were crowds of people present on Saturday but we did not have a single witness come forward,” he added. “We can stop this by the public not accepting it and coming forward to give evidence.”
Serious knife crime – timeline
Detectives are investigating three serious knife crime cases following a series of separate incidents the space of seven days.
24 Aug. – A 17-year-old girl suffers life-threatening injuries after being stabbed in the chest outside a bar in George Town in the early hours. She survives the attack and police open an attempted-murder inquiry.
29 Aug. – Recordo Lionel Pars, 27, is stabbed to death as fighting breaks out in the public area around The Strand shopping centre after nightclub closing time in the early hours of Saturday. A man has been charged with murder and was scheduled to appear in court Friday.
31 Aug. – A 27-year-old man is stabbed multiple times in a dispute that follows a dominoes game at a home in Sound Way, George Town. A suspect is being interviewed by police.
Anyone with information can call 649-2930. Anonymous tips may be provided directly to the RCIPS Confidential Tip Line at 949-7777.