Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Crimes-Czar-Us (crime in Cayman)

I’ve been trying to think up a slogan for the proposed Office of the Coordinator of the three Islands’ Crime-Prevention and Law-Enforcement Agencies and Organisations. “Crimes Czar Us” is the best I can do. Any other offers? The Coordinator will need all the help he or she can get. My column in this weekend’s Cayman Net News expresses serious doubts that the Office would or could be effectual.

My blog of 8th July wondered if the RCIP was wholly relevant any more, and suggested it phase itself out of crime-prevention altogether. Concentrate on the old community-policing task of “thief-taker” (investigating crimes and catching suspects), and leave crime-prevention to private businesses and individuals. What might a Czar be able to do that the Commissioners apparently can’t do?

Cayman is a difficult place to police. There are umpteen ethnic minorities, none of them fully integrated with any of the others. Our languages include twenty or more dialects of English, Spanish as she is spoke in each of a dozen nations, Tagalog, Hindi, Urdu and Cantonese. The main religion is Christianity, with either Hinduism or Islam in the second rank - all with umpteen varieties and all competing with the intellectual force of post-religion heathenism.

The minorities don’t live in ghettoes, but each operates in a fairly tight self-protective circle- ethnic Caymanians most of all. Our government’s law-enforcement agencies view this hodge-podge as a single community; after all, how much internal division can a tiny community of 50,000 have? The agencies make no concessions to the differences in cultures: that’s no way to control crime or catch criminals.

Of the two chief law-enforcement agencies, Immigration is the more influential, and the one whose policies most threaten our peace and security. The Police are top dog in theory, but this is a case of the tail wagging the dog. Immigration has the power to save favoured criminals from trial and prison by deporting witnesses and complainants. In effect that gives it a veto over criminal prosecutions; you can’t get more influential than that!

The top priority of Crimes-Czar-Us (CCU) ought to be to exhibit a commitment to openness and transparency. If it doesn’t, it will be dismissed by the general public as unresponsive and unreliable, and perhaps irrelevant. Openness would help identify the exact nature of corruption within government, and might help focus the search for individuals involved in it.

Another CCU priority might be to question the prohibition of legal access to ganja, decades after proof of its failure. There is no logic in treating the drug more severely than alcohol. It’s a lot safer, after all: very few pot-heads beat up their wives and children while under the influence – unless of course they have been drinking as well. Legalise it and tax it, is my advice.

The toughest job on a CCU agenda would be to create a link with every ethnic minority. Reaching out to those groups would set the CCU on a collision course with an Immigration bureaucracy that is inherently hostile to them. Well, that can’t be helped. The RCIP has always gone out of its way to be chums with Immigration, and that has cost the Force every bit of trust it ever had.

Would a Crimes Czar be nimble enough to avoid the trap? We must hope so. If not, the whole project will founder. Then, it would be a futile and expensive gesture like the Tempura and Cialis operations. Cialis, was it? Some Celtic word. You know the one I mean…

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thief-Takers (Cayman's Police Force)

Sad to say, the “Island Watch” proposal [see June archives, on the right] hasn’t generated enough interest to give it legs. There were a few positive comments on my CNS Viewpoint article, but the effect of noisy fireworks on sensitive pets was a much more popular topic.

Of course it’s still possible that the National Security Council will look the idea over, and that its Crime Prevention sub-Committee members will kick themselves for not thinking of it first. Crimestoppers Inc might one day volunteer to implement the program. Sherlock Holmes used to rely on his Baker Street Irregulars- street urchins who acted as his eyes and ears in the criminal underworld of 19th-Century London. Maybe our Police Force will one day see the virtue of having an army of cellphone-users doing the same sort of thing.

The biggest obstacle to recruiting the general public into the service of any anti-criminal venture is the need for anonymity. Last Thursday’s Caymanian Compass editorial related yet another example of why the Police aren’t trusted to keep their informants’ identities secret. One of their reporters’ confidential enquiries was leaked to the Premier. The leaker apparently couldn’t care less about the RCIP’s public image – or he or she was paid not to care. Who knows? When the Compass goes on record with a complaint, you know things are serious!

On Tuesday last week, only five people turned up for a public meeting called by the Police. It’s not the first such meeting to have had a disappointingly small audience. A word popped into my head while I was mulling this situation: the word was “irrelevance”. Many of us perceive the Police to be irrelevant- which in a way is worse than being perceived as untrustworthy. Our authorities all deplore the public’s apathy- but it’s not apathy, or lethargy, or not caring; it’s just a reluctance to waste our time. We’d rather stay home and watch TV. If Tuesday’s meeting was anything like the meeting at South Sound Community Hall a few months ago, it began with ninety minutes of boring speeches from the High Table. Why would we put ourselves through that again?

Are the Police aware of their perceived irrelevance? They must be. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to change the perception. God knows, they’ve been told often enough to shake up their image, but for them (stale joke alert) denial is just a river in Egypt. Actually, the whole role of the RCIP needs a serious re-think. We can’t go on the way we are.

Look, catching criminals is one thing and preventing crime is quite another. There are reported to be 650 private security guards in Cayman whose job it is to provide a presence that might discourage criminals from committing crimes where the guards are. I don’t want to make Stuart Bostock even richer than he already is, but maybe we need another 650 private guards. Maybe the Police should give up trying to prevent crime and concentrate on catching criminals.

Once upon a time, every parish in England had its specialist “thief-takers”. It was a natural enough transition from catching criminals to preventing their crimes, but maybe Cayman would be better off with the old system for a while. At the moment the general public (however unfair this might be) trusts neither the RCIP’s integrity nor its competence, and that has to change, asap. The RCIP needs a breather- some time and space to get on top of its issues. Giving more authority and responsibility to private security guards might be a practical, and temporary, compromise between an over-stretched Police Force and a vigilante society.