According to the headlines and the statistics, serious crime is on the increase. Seven murders this year already (at the time of writing) is a shockingly high ratio per capita in this tiny jurisdiction. Cayman has always lauded its safety and security to the world as vital draws for business, so getting on top of this current crime wave is essential if business is to continue, especially since the recessionary grip has also taken its hold on Cayman’s business fraternity. Yet recent well-documented investigations among the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service have done little to increase public confidence that this will happen. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull has an exclusive interview with Police Commissioner David Baines. First in a series of articles
Stabilising the service
Building up strong and capable capacity among the RCIPS is a priority for the recently-appointed Commissioner David Baines, as he sees shortcomings across the board with regard to personnel.
“Over the last two years the RCIPS has seen a drain on its resources as officers from neighbourhood policing units have been drafted into dealing with criminal investigations as the level of serious crime has increased. That, coupled with natural attrition of officers has meant the neighbourhood policing in the RCIPS has all but collapsed,” Baines states.
“We are also required under the recent budget to cut 16 posts across the service, even though we need to fill the skills shortfall in areas such as criminal intelligence.”
Baines says that the focus on the results-based management style of policing these days means resources must be placed where the likelihood of arrest is highest.
“Some might say that zero arrests mean zero crime; while others may look at this statistic differently,” he says. “In any case the neighbourhood policing in Cayman needs to be reintroduced so that the public become familiar with their local beat officer and can have faith that the officer can deal with any local problem that might be occurring, from dog fouling and litter to drug dealing.”
Baines says on the positive side, the RCIPS has recently had two new classes of recruits join the service, which means 35 new officers have recently filled positions made vacant by officers leaving.
“We are delighted to have these officers who are all capable, energetic officers all keen to make a difference in the community,” he confirms. “These officers have undertaken a rigorous 14 week training period during which time they have been moulded into officers able to effectively police the Cayman Islands.”
Baines states that around half the new recruits are Caymanians, as well as a good mix of other nationalities, including officers from Jamaica, Barbados and the Philippines. Ensuring that this mix of nationalities works as a cohesive unit is an important focus and he says that the officers will be well-drilled in how they must meet the expectations of the Cayman community and understand the various cultures with which they are dealing.
Baines says that all officers, new or existing, will receive the relevant training to ensure that everyone understands the remit of the RCIPS and are able to carry out their duties with the required levels of professionalism.
“In the past there has been a lack of consistency when it came to the selection process for new officers to the service,” he says. “To remedy this we have recently hired a new human resources manager and a rigour will be applied in the selection process of new recruits. The pass mark is high for entrants and there will be no deviation from that. It’s extremely important that each officer in the RCIPS not only recognises their responsibilities but are also capable of carrying out those responsibilities.”
Regaining public trust
The September shooting death of Carlo Webster at the Next Level nightclub and the subsequent blind eye turned by the 150 or so occupants of the club at the time when it came to giving evidence has highlighted a number of issues that Baines says he is keen to address.
The handling of information by the RCIPS is now an important area of focus, to ensure that any information a witness may have to a crime is dealt with in complete confidence.
Baines states: “We need an overhaul of the systems and processes by which intelligence is handled, from the very first time information may be conveyed via a call to the 911 line all the way through to how the information is handled and stored. There needs to be a total lock down on the information from the beginning.”
Baines says that the RCIPS needs to look carefully at how intelligence is recorded and shared.
“We need to ensure that only those who need to know are party to the information. This may need a change in legislation, much like the UK’s Data Protection Act,” he says.
This may initially require an audit review to see who is currently using what information and for what purpose.
“It requires more control, more oversight and more discipline,” Baines confirms. “The system itself is fairly easy to implement but it requires a cultural change, which might be harder to obtain.”
According to Baines, bringing Cayman’s justice system well and truly into the 21st century to ensure that justice is properly served also requires a complete overhaul in how arrested persons are processed.
“It is a disgrace that a first world country such as the Cayman Islands has not already adopted 21st Century evidence collecting processes as well as modern processes for the treatment of those individuals arrested,” he says, and furthers that evidence collection is stalled from the very beginning because of the proximity of those arrested to each other: “The cell complex is an absolute disgrace. Those under arrest are able to discuss cases between themselves through the bars in their adjoining cells to make up a defence between them.”
Baines would like to see those arrested held in safe, secure and separate holding facilities so that taped evidence can be properly taken and not in an “18th Century dungeon” as he puts it which, he says, ought to be condemned.
Baines also believes it is essential that witnesses and jurors are properly protected when giving evidence so that they cannot be intimidated by the accused into giving a not guilty verdict or not stepping forward to give incriminating evidence.
“We need to change the way evidence is given in court so that people are not too frightened to come forward. We understand that this is a very small community in which everyone is acquainted with everyone. In this respect we need to give anonymity to witnesses and perhaps look to a judge-only court,” he says.
To aid officers in making arrests and ensuring that criminals are caught, Baines says technology needs to be improved with new systems installed to give additional eyes and ears to officers.
“If we build up the technical capabilities such as CCTV and better lighting in areas known for criminal activity we can stop their criminal movements and actions,” he states.
Closing down areas previously frequented by criminals as well as better monitoring systems are critical components in the fight against serious crime, Baines says.
The monitoring of car number plates is a good first step, because that allows officers to build up movements of known criminals. This information can then be linked to other departments, such as the Vehicle Licensing Dept.
“Having such technology on board makes an officer up to five times more effective. Passive screening acts as a prompt to an officer, for example if would-be burglars are undertaking reconnaissance of a building they intend to burglarise,” Baines explains. “It can also be useful if individuals go missing, to see which cars were passing the area from which the individual disappeared.”
In this respect, Baines sees a close connection between the public and private sectors, so that everyone wins.
“Those companies responsible for infrastructure, such as the telecommunications companies could assist with the implementation and upkeep of such systems by providing capacity for us in their systems. Everyone wins because the RCIPS gains capacity and the businesses are actively monitored and policed remotely.”
The advent of a helicopter to improve the RCIPS’s capabilities has been the subject of great discussion in Cayman of late. Baines says he is happy that the anticipated date of arrival for the police helicopter will be in January.
“Although I would rather have more officers than a piece of equipment I have not used as yet, the advent of the helicopter will certainly improve our capabilities,” he states.
However, Baines says that there was little point in taking delivery of this costly piece of equipment until all the service requirements for a helicopter, such as hangarage, piloting and fuel, had been properly put in place.