Thursday, March 31, 2011

Crime & Credibility (in Cayman)

It was disappointing to read Crimestoppers’ latest public appeal to trust the security of their TIPS Hotline. Poor old Crimestoppers, they just don’t get it. I don’t know a single soul - high social status or low, expat or Caymanian, male or female - who would call you with information about a crime. Maybe all my associates are crooks and scofflaws: well, who knows?

In any case, the Crimestoppers committee or directors or whatever they are, can’t be bothered to give us actual proof that the Hotline is secure. They are like the American tourist of legend who, in a foreign land where the natives speak no English, thinks that shouting louder will help him be understood. Look, Crimestopper people, it doesn’t prove the Hotline is secure by simply asserting it over and over again.

The Crimestoppers mean well, and their motive is honourable; but they are too credulous of assurances by their Miami agents about the phone calls. “Hello. My friend and I just robbed a bank. If I tell you his name, will you give me a thousand bucks and witness protection?” “Course we will, sir! That’s what we’re here for.”

The Police themselves have a credibility problem, and exhibit the same insouciance towards it. Where can we turn to? Who can protect us? Increasingly, the answer is: ourselves. Dogs, burglar bars, spray-cans of bleach, alarm systems...; we’re on the path to guns and gated compounds. And, if we lose faith in the willingness of the Prosecution Service to prosecute and the judges to punish, we will be on the path to vigilante vengeance.

Neighbourhood Watches have an uncertain reputation. How are householders supposed to distinguish between good guys and bad guys, driving by? How can we tell a dog barking at a trespasser from a dog barking at a leaf? When I have to get up in the middle of the night to yell at a neighbour’s dog, am I unwittingly helping a burglar? Any self-respecting burglar will probably shoot a barking dog and come back next night when the coast is clear.

Or poison it. Maybe all Cayman’s dog-poisonings are done by burglars- although sleepless neighbours may well be responsible for some, I guess. (No, Madam, I didn’t poison your dog. I don’t poison dogs. I’m just saying.)

If we of the general public have to rely on ourselves to protect ourselves, we will surely see the development of vigilante justice. Large private rewards are becoming more common than they were. So far, they are offered for “information leading to the conviction of...” but it’s only a short step from there to “information leading to the private identification of...” It can’t be too hard to find and hire an assassin locally.

Soon there will be irresistible pressure on MLAs to enact a “Castle Law” - as in “a man’s home is his castle”. It is a legal maxim first written in English by a respected judge four hundred years ago, and honoured in England until quite recent times.Some American states still honour it, allowing householders to fend off home invaders by whatever force is felt to be necessary - no questions asked.

Cayman is a British territory, with a British Police Force and senior Civil Servants beholden to a UK government that no longer respects the Castle Doctrine. However, British law does still honour the concept of “jury nullification”. That allows a jury to bring in a Not Guilty verdict in defiance of a law it disapproves of. We may get to see a local example of that, next time some householder shoots a burglar.