Widely popular crime shows like ‘48 Hours’ have given the public a snapshot of what happens behind the scenes when murders or serious offences are committed.
While the stories may be different in Cayman, the urgency and the determination demonstrated in those series mirror those of the members of the RCIPS Major Crimes Unit and Serious Crime Review team who set out to crack cases here.
“We probably investigate half a dozen, seven or eight investigations a year. We tend to solve 60 to 70% of those crimes as they come up and they might take a year or so to be solved, but we continue work on them,” Detective Superintendent Pete Lansdown said in recent interview with the Cayman Compass.
The Serious Crime Review team was created by Police Commissioner Derek Byrne with the specific aim of getting to the root of unsolved cases in the Cayman Islands.
This monthly series will profile the cases they investigate and the work they do.
Joint teamwork moves the needle
If cases are not solved, Lansdown said, then the investigations move from Major Crimes to the Serious Crime Review team who investigate cold cases – “cases that we haven’t solved first time around”.
Detective Sergeant Peter Dean, who heads up the Serious Crime Review team, explained that cold cases are triggered in investigations where all probative, reasonable inquiries have been carried out “or you’ve not come to a resolve in the case and it’s at that time that there is no current investigation and that’s when we come in”.
He said there’s no specific time period for a classification of a cold case; it could be months or years. However, when a case moves to his unit, it is given an operational name and an initial review is commenced. Lansdown said, much like ‘48 Hours’, those first hours after a major incident are crucial.
“If we have viable lines of inquiry in the first 48 hours, we can generally assess whether an investigation is going to be solvable, but it takes weeks and weeks and weeks to get people charged, get them to courts, to get all your witnesses on board, offer the protection we might need to offer and ultimately a trial could take over a year,” he said.
Lansdown said sometimes investigators don’t make it that far. “I know without doubt, I have felt it, but the senior investigating officers are very, very frustrated when they can’t achieve that success,” he said.
At that point, they widen their probe to consider alternative lines of inquiries. Each investigatory unit has three members, but when an active major incident is triggered all six detectives come together to crack the case.
Detective Samantha Sillitoe, office manager for the RCIPS Major Incident Room, keeps track of the lines of inquiries and triggers action as the investigation commences.
“Actions can be anything that an officer needs to go and do, to help the case. So, an action can be, go and take a statement from a witness, go and get some CCTV, view the CCTV, submit some evidence for forensic analysis, interview a suspect, interview witnesses. It can be a range of things,” she said.
Closure and justice for all
Both units have a mixture of younger and more senior officers, which when combined makes a stronger RCIPS team.
“Our job is to make Cayman safer, that’s it ultimately. I should say we are pretty successful at the moment,” Lansdown said. “We’ve really had some good results with gang crime and shootings, and the murder rate is very low, certainly for the Caribbean. We were down to two or three offences of murder a year. Quite often they’re domestic-related, sometimes they’re not the family. The community generally hold the answers to these crimes.”
Dean acknowledged that, with cold cases, there is no quick fix.
“This is where we’re sitting down now and we’re doing all the background work, all the paperwork, making sure we understand the case because 99.9% of the time we’ve had no involvement in the original investigation, so we need to know this case from A to Z,” Dean said.
However, he said, the team is motivated to crack these cases. “To give a family that maybe have had years of sadness and grief… to be able to give them a little bit of closure is a fantastic feeling,” Dean said.