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.