As Cayman’s election season gets into its stride, in the run-up to the 14 April poll, a team of police investigators are on hand in case their services are required.
So far, the investigators, who have a wide-ranging remit, have already been called in to look at the defacement of an election poster in George Town.
Chief Inspector Patrick Beersingh told the Cayman Compass, “The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has a dedicated team of investigators, consisting of a detective inspector and other detectives who are tasked with investigating all election-related incident reports.”
In the meantime, officers and police vehicles can be found at the many campaign meetings and election gatherings across Cayman, for the purposes of crowd and traffic control.
The law does not require political candidates to inform police officers when they are holding public or political meetings, and candidates do not need police permission to hold such meetings.
“However,” Beersingh said, “if the meeting will block or obstruct the public roadway, the candidate or persons organising the meeting should apply to the police for permission to block the roadway. If the meeting involves a march or procession in the public road, the organisers must apply for permission to march under the Public Order Law.”
He added, “If the police become aware of a public meeting, they will normally police the event for crowd control and traffic concerns. Community Police Officers will attend meetings and assist in keeping order. Obviously, if threats or other reports are received, the police will respond appropriately. It works best if candidates inform the police when they intend to hold a public meeting so that resources can be put on to address any issues.”
As they did on Nomination Day on 1 March, the RCIPS will be providing police coverage at all 19 polling stations and at all the counting locations on Election Day.
One issue that, election after election, raises sticky questions of legality is ‘treating’ – the supply of food, beverages and entertainment at campaign meetings.
The Elections Law states: “The following persons shall be deemed to have committed the offence of treating … – (a) every person who corruptly … either before, during or after an election, directly or indirectly, gives, or provides or pays, wholly or in part, the expenses of giving or providing any food, drink, entertainment or provision to or for any persons for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person, or any other person, to vote or to refrain from voting at such election … and (b) every elector who corruptly accepts or takes any such food, drink, entertainment or provision.”
The question ultimately is, if you get handed a plate of barbecue chicken wings and a can of Coke at an election hopeful’s rally, is the candidate trying to “corruptly influence” you or just ensure you don’t go hungry or thirsty while listening to his or her speech at a time of evening when you’d normally be having dinner. And if you get handed a plate of filet mignon steak and a glass of champagne, does the higher value of that meal make it more corrupt, or is a candidate just catering to a more expensive tastes?
The law does not stipulate a maximum value on what might be considered ‘treating’.
When the issue arose in the run-up to the 2013 general election, the then police commissioner, David Baines, said low value food and drink items, like sodas, finger sandwiches or chicken wings at political rallies would be acceptable, as long they were not considered excessive, and he advised that “common sense” should rule the day.
In an interview with the Compass this month, Chief Inspector Beersingh said, “So far, we have not seen any events that appear to constitute treating or any other breach of the Elections Act. Police will attend events where appropriate to provide general policing and security.
“If treating offences are identified or reported, the police will investigate and act according to law like any other matter.”
Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell, in response to a Compass query on the subject of treating, said, “On Nomination Day we made a copy of the Elections Act (2021 revision) available to every candidate. We did not issue any additional guidance on treating or the provision of food and drink at political gatherings.”
He added that the Elections Office was liaising with the RCIPS on all aspects of election offences, including any specific concerns around treating.
The defacing or damaging of candidates’ posters is also something that seems to occur at each election. Just one day after the 1 March Nomination Day, a campaign poster of George Town West candidate Kenrick Webster was defaced. Police, who are treating the case as a potential damage to property offence, have launched an investigation into the incident.
Whether those who damage election posters may be doing so to make a political statement or simply out of sheer vandalism, if they are caught, they face a hefty penalty.
Under the Penal Code, if the damage does not exceed $3,000, there is a $5,000 fine and imprisonment for five years. Damage in excess of $3,000 carries a maximum fine of $10,000 dollars and a 10-year prison sentence.