Police: COVID led to drop in crime in 2020

Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne, centre, with senior police officers, addresses the media at a briefing on the 2020 crime statistics on 12 May. - Photo: Norma Connolly

Cayman recorded a 12.8% drop in overall crime last year, partly due to the islands being under strict COVID-19 restrictions for three months and a corresponding increase in police presence, according to the 2020 crime statistics which were released today (12 May).

The crime report shows that, excluding COVID-related offences, such as breaching curfew regulations, police recorded 3,604 crimes across the Cayman Islands in 2020, compared to 4,137 in 2019.

A total of 667 people were either warned for prosecution or ticketed for breaching COVID regulations last year, police said.

Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne, speaking at a media briefing to release the crime statistics, said, “2020 was completely dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic and it completely changed our operating environment, with restricted movement of persons and vehicles associated with shelter-in-place and curfew restrictions across the islands.”

He said the report showed a reduction in a broad range of crimes, and that Cayman remained a safe place to work and live.

An officer on ATV beach patrol.
A police officer on ATV beach patrol on Seven Mile Beach during Cayman’s shelter-in-place period. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay.

Knife crimes

Violent crime, including offences involving firearms, dropped by 12%, although Cayman saw an increase in knife-related offences, leading police to launch an operation last year to combat knife crime, called ‘Blade Runner’.

Police said there were 236 recorded offences involving a bladed weapon, accounting for 7% of the total recorded crimes in 2020. These offences included 32 incidents of serious violence.

“In the second half of 2020, the majority of blade-enabled crimes involving serious violence took place at licensed premises, including two murders and an attempted murder,” the RCIPS report noted.

Recordo Lionel Pars, 27, was fatally stabbed in the early morning of 29 Aug., while Michael Aaron Bush, 22, died after being stabbed multiple times on Christmas Eve. Both fatalities occurred at the Strand, on West Bay Road. The attempted murder case involved a 17-year-old girl who suffered life-threatening injuries after being stabbed in the chest outside a bar in George Town in the early hours of 24 Aug.

Police remain at the scene of the Strand the morning after Recordo Lionel Pars was stabbed to death there on 29 Aug. 2020.

During 2020, police recorded 90 ‘violence against the person’ crimes at licensed premises, compared to 112 in 2019. “However, for over three months many licensed premises were closed,” the report noted.

The report also pointed that 2020 saw a noticeable shift in the profile of blade-related crimes “from machetes used to chop and slap victims, to knives used to stab”, which police said partly accounted for the increase in the proportion of blade attacks resulting in fatalities or life-threatening injuries.

Byrne said in the latter half of last year, “as the economy started to open and the night-time economy returned and became very active, we did see an increase in bladed weapons and we put in Operation Blade Runner for that”.

He said police had operated increased patrols and had worked closely with the Liquor Licensing Board, the licensees and security personnel at the nightclubs and bars “and that basically brought it under control”.

He cautioned that crimes involving blades had “not gone away”, and said police remain on alert for such offences.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Brad Walton noted that it is an offence to carry a bladed weapon, such as a knife or machete, at night, including inside a vehicle, without a lawful purpose. If convicted, a person is liable to a four-year prison sentence and a fine of $5,000.

A snapshot of the crimes committed in the Cayman Islands in 2020. CLICK TO ENLARGE. – Data: RCIPS

Domestic violence

Unlike in many other places around the world where there was a reported increase in domestic violence as a result of COVID lockdowns, Cayman’s domestic violence numbers dropped last year. Throughout 2020, police recorded 468 incidents of domestic violence, compared to 560 the previous year.

The report noted, “There was a slight decrease in the number of recorded offences involving domestic abuse, specifically physical violence. This decrease in 2020 goes against the trend of year on year increases seen in recent times. Like other types of crime, the COVID-19 restrictions are likely to have had an impact on overall levels of recorded domestic-related violence.”

Byrne said the RCIPS, based on global trends during lockdowns, had expected to see a similar increase in domestic violence cases during the shelter-in-place period here, but “there was no spike”. Later, when children returned to the reopened schools, he said, police had assumed that they would then see those anticipated reports via the school counselling programmes, but “that didn’t happen”.

However, the commissioner added that, five months into 2021, police and the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub were “really concerned” about domestic violence and child protection issues.

Drug crimes

Police collect cocaine packages from a beach in East End in April 2020, while Cayman was under lockdown restrictions. Throughout 2020, police recovered 137 pounds of cocaine that washed up on local beaches. – Photo: RCIPS

One area of criminal activity that saw a rise in 2020 was drug crime, which increased 7%. Police said this was mainly due to officers adopting a “more intrusive approach” as part of the RCIPS response to the COVID-19 crisis, which “led to the detection of some drug crime offending which might not in the past have been recorded”.

During 2020, the RCIPS recovered 4,963 pounds of ganja, with an estimated value of $5.5 million, compared to 4,759 pounds in 2019.

They also seized 137 pounds of cocaine, with a street value of $500,000, that washed up on local beaches, as well as 32 grams of cocaine recovered in operations.

Sex offences

There was 20% decrease in sex offences during 2020, police said. However, the number of rape cases reported remained the same as 2019.

While the statistics show there 13 rape cases were reported last year, compared to nine in 2019, police said that four of the rape offences reported in 2020 related to historical crimes that took place prior to the start of the year.

Last year, police recorded a total of 83 sexual offences – which include rape, indecent assault, indecent exposure, grooming of a child or impaired person, defilement of a minor, or possession of indecent images of a child – compared to 104 in 2019.

Cyber-crime

In 2020, 223 cyber-crimes were recorded, accounting for 6% of total crimes, police said. Almost half of those involved use of an ICT service to defraud, abuse, annoy, threaten or harass.

Police noted that 22% (50 cases) of ‘cyber-enabled crimes’ were linked to public order offences, such as harassment, alarm or distress, while another 22% were linked to ‘acquisitive’ crime (theft) or money laundering.

The RCIPS acknowledged that cyber-enabled crime linked to sexual offences is “often difficult to identify and, like sexual offences generally, is likely to be under reported”. Last year, there were seven cases of cyber-enabled crimes linked to sexual offences, with each of these cases relating to a child under the age of 16, and involving both contact and non-contact incidents.

To read the full RCIPS Annual Crime and Traffic Statistical Report 2020, click here.

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