A reasonable police force

| 09/01/2014

Whether or not we refer to the local police as a force or a service, all of us need to know that when members of the RCIPS use force it is done so in a reasonable manner and lawfully. The police themselves are and must be subject to the rule of law. An unruly police force (or service) is equally as bad as runaway crime and the Cayman Islands is currently teetering on the brink of both.

At this stage the events of New Year’s Day following an armed hold-up at a George Town jewellery store, when Police Commissioner David Baines chased after the suspects in his truck, are not entirely clear. It is certain that the commissioner caused the suspected robbers to crash and then he struck at least one man with his vehicle after the suspects ran off from their immobilized car. It is also a fact that the man who was injured remains in hospital at present over a week later. We don’t know how badly he was injured or even if he was one of the men that got out of the getaway car.

While many are very supportive of the quick actions taken by Baines in apprehending the suspects, it is vital that a transparent and open investigation into what happened is made by an independent body to establish that what the commissioner did to stop the robbers was reasonable. Baines should know this too. As a long serving officer with decades of experience in the UK, he will be well aware that it is normal there and in most jurisdictions for an investigation to commence under such circumstances.

He may very well be found to have acted entirely lawfully, even heroically and befitting of his recent royal gong, but it would be wrong for the authorities not to properly examine and publicly explain what happened. It is perfectly reasonable for the public to ask if chasing men on foot with a large SUV is ‘reasonable’, especially when it appears that one man was run over and badly injured, even if Baines’ intention was merely to prevent their escape and not to hurt anyone.

Given that the premier in his role as home affairs minister now has a greater part to play in the administrative side of policing, calls from him for an open enquiry would carry significant weight. But so far the country's leader and his ministry have been quiet about the incident, as have all local officials questioned about the issue.

Just days after the senior cops’ actions, several police officers engaged in a high speed pursuit through the streets of George Town, when it appears at least three cars took off after a suspect who was wanted on a warrant for failing to turn up to court. The man was not a violent offender but charged with burglary. Yet, in the wake of their boss's actions, it seems that they too were encouraged to take after the suspect, careering through the streets at high speed, according to some accounts.

Now, without doubt the offender should not have torn off at such dangerous speeds and he should certainly not have commandeered another car, but the question has to be asked whether it was really necessary for three police cars to pursue the perpetrator, given that the police helicopter also had a lock on him, with the resulting damage to no less than seven cars, including the police vehicles.

The air support unit demonstrated on a previous occasion how effective it can be in tailing speeding getaway cars much more safely than a high speed car chase on the streets.

The police have already been found by the courts to have caused the death of one young man because of a high speed chase, and there have been other reports in recent years of the police running over people in the process of an arrest. A police officer was also sacked after he was convicted of breaking a man’s arm during an arrest, although he was recently acquitted by the Court of Appeal.

More often than not the victims of police abuse, or misuse of their powers, are not in a position to do much about it. Lawyers are expensive and most victims are petty offenders with low education levels who do not have the wherewithal to take legal action.

Crime continues to plague Cayman, even though the authorities lock up a significant number of people, placing the jurisdiction close to the top of the world’s list for per capita rate of inmates. There is no doubt that the community is calling for action as the police struggle to keep a lid on violent crime in particular. But this does not mean that the police can bend the law or exceed their powers as a result.

Neither prison nor the increasing amounts of legislation that undermine civil liberties seem to have had much effect on the local crime rate, but nor will a police service that thinks it is above the law. The causes of crime are exceptionally complex and Cayman is paying the price now for many years of neglect of the social and economic factors that have produced a generation of criminals.

Many have scant regard for law and order and others simply cannot function in normal society because of the neglect and systematic abuse in their past. 

The police are not to blame for crime but they do have a part to play in reducing it. Critical to good policing, especially policing by consent as is the norm in any democracy, is the community’s trust in the police service’s integrity. It can certainly be argued that, at present, trust in the RCIPS is very limited.

The fact that at least three men were prepared to hold up a jewellery store in broad daylight on a busy cruise ship day with hundreds of people around shows that either they simply believed they would not be caught or, more disturbingly, even if they were caught they would not be convicted.

And it is here where the trouble lies for the police.

A combination of poor communication with and lack of understanding about the complexities of Cayman society by many officers, the poor management of evidence, competency levels and training, as well as the failure of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to direct the police when there are problems with cases, has, among other issues, led to a number of collapsed trials and acquittals by the Court of Appeal.

What the RCIPS needs to do is build the trust of the public, train its officers and answer the community’s continuous and loud calls for police on the street and on their feet — not in their cars. The RCIPS needs to be in a position to collect genuine witness evidence and make better use of technological, scientific and forensic evidence to support cases going through the courts.

Safe convictions of perpetrators get the right people off the streets and send a message to others, but when the criminals believe that the police are not capable of steering cases to conviction and when they know the broader community does not trust them for a catalogue of reasons, the police will continue to fail in their struggle to fight crime. Unlawful action by the police will not help; it will only make a bad situation worse.

If the actions of the police commissioner on New Year’s Day are not properly and openly examined, the message that will be sent to the rank and file of the RCIPS and the local criminals does not bode well for the future of crime management in Cayman.

Category: Viewpoint

Comments (25)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    GO CNS EXCELLENT

    Article we need more like you guys. Baines is certainly not above the law and he needs to be investigated like Rabe Welcome and all the others.

  2. Anonymous says:

    How many times have we heard this tired lament about police officers not understanding the "complexities of Cayman society"?. Can someone define exactly what this means. As we have hundreds of Caymanians unemployed can someone also explain why we cannot at least have a 90% Caymanian police frrce which would presumably cure the perceived problem referenced above?. There seems to be no problem in filling the Fire Dept workforce with Caymanians – can anyone work out why!!.

    • Anonymous says:

      No such thing as a 'Complex Caymanian Culture' – this is just a roundabout way of saying that the island has many corruption issues and certain people don't want these issues challenged / addressed by outsiders that understand what corruption is and how to combat it. If someone can tell me what is different about the 'culture' on these islands from anywhere else in the western world then please tell us???

  3. Anonymous says:

    Seems we are engaged in a lot of "Monday morning quarterbacking" Now, I feel as long as we use the experience(s) to help guide us in future occurrences, then there is some merit to the comments.

    With respect to the actions of the CoP; Joe Private Citizen should be able to expect from him, a cool head and a measured response gained from years of experience (required to hold the post) in almost any situation that fits into the category of Robbery/Burglary.

    With regards to the High speed chase; I would think that we have seen enough tragic endings to high speed travels, chasing anything or not. I would have hoped that in this day and age Police would have strict instructions on how to behave if these types of situations arise.

    Now, to the other side of the coin; let us be careful when talking about "proportionate response" to demonstrate my response, let us say someone breaks into my house, I am able to sneak up on the person with a bat in my hand, I notice the person has something in their hand that might be a handgun, I "tap" the intruder on the head with my bat and crush the intruder's skull, when I turn on the light I see that the object the intruder was holding is a  screw driver with a big shaft.

    The Police arrives, they do their work and what happens now? am I, as the homeowner, defending my castle, get charged with causing death by using more than "proportionate force"? Do I as the victim of the Intrusion now have to spend my hard earned money by hiring attorneys to defend me in court and possibly get sent to Prison!

    Therefore, let me close by saying to Robbers, Intruders and all those that contemplate breaking into or burglarizing a premise private or commercial : If you engage in criminal activity, you have decided to accept certain "un-quantifyable risks" with regards to personal safety! 

    Let me just add that I am definitely not a fan of Commissioner Baines! But, let us be fair in the investigation of the occurrences and hopefully we will learn something to guide our actions in the future.

    And that's all I have to say about this!

     

     

     

  4. 4Cayman says:

    Wonderful commentary CNS. however, considering there has been so many crimes and robberies with no arrest I am just happy [these suspects] did not get away. BTW you noticed no robberies since the arrests?

  5. Anonymous says:

    we need more police like baines!!!….

    if all officer were upto the standard of baines we would have very few problems around here….

    • Anonymous says:

      Investigating this apprehension is a lot less important than getting the criminals behind bars. I hope not too much time and expense is wasted.

  6. Walter Kovacs says:

    I think a better way to look at this situation is to not use the word "reasonable" force and instead use the word "Proportionate"..was the CoP's use of his vehicle to pursue and strike the alleged robbers a proportionate use of force…as well as the recent high speed chase by the police of a burglary suspect..was the continued pursuit of the suspect, even after the helicoptor was utilised and had confirmed tracking the suspect's vehicle, proportionate??  Whilst a lot of CNS readers are applauding the CoP's daring daylight pursuit and capture of these suspects in the manner in which he did, would they be so quick to say the same thing if one of these persons had turned out to be their relative?  Somehow, I think not…

    • Buford T. Justice says:

      “would they be so quick to say the same thing if one of these persons had turned out to be their relative?  Somehow, I think not…” – And therein lies the rub. 😉

  7. Anonymous says:

    Great comment CNS and yet another reason to again ask whether RCIPS should come under the scope of the OCC rather than relying on what has for some time been a rather dysfunctional 'Professional Standards' unit.  

     

  8. Caymanian M says:

    Well Baines is the head of the RCIP, and what the head do, most naturally the tail will follow. So I concur that his actions as the head examplar need to be investigated, subject to open discussion and the matter put to rest. 

  9. Anonymous says:

    CNS this is political engineering on your part! And it's dangerous. The usual procedure of an investigation to ensure that the actions of a police officer were appropriate and met with procedure doesn't require you or Ezzard Millar to ensure or incite a movement to this effect or otherwise. It was clear from the beginning of how you reported this matter, where you were going with this.  CNS, your role has become an important and influential one in society, I hope you use it wisely and responsibly. 

    • Caymanian M says:

      CNS has to be careful of its influence …. but how I see it, if you have officers pursuing a car at dangerous speed, abusing their powers because of thier leader, I am one out of many who think the New Year's incident should be addressed, or the CoP at least explained to his officers and the public what he did not to be misinterpreted. 

    • Anonymous says:

      Your last sentence states exactly what CNS is doing here.

      The investigation into Baines' conduct took a week to get organised. Anywhere else it would have kicked off in minutes, the process should have been automatic. During that delay the CoP had, in breach of common sense if nothing else, made statements to the media that suggested the guy now in hospital had somehow 'slipped' under the wheels of his SUV when the correct reponse should have been 'no comment while the incident is being investigated'.

      I suspect that without political pressure (that's what you elect them for after all) there probably would never have been an investigation. I'm not alleging any specific wrong-doing here, this is just the way RCIPS like to operate.  

      Whilst Baines' actions during the arrest may be commendable what happened afterwards raises some serious questions about the way RIPS is organised.   

    • Anonymous says:

      Rubbish!  When a constable has an accident he is arrested breathalyzed and or suspended pending enquiry. The same is done if he shoots a suspect.  This is a good policy as it covers the officers butt and also helps us the public to feel secure knowing that they are not so called renegade cops.   At first I did not think this way I thought it was unfair to the cops. Now I understand.  So even Baines who used his vehicle in this case as a weapon should not be above the law. If he acted lawfully then we can shut up and move on.  Should a guy get away with threatening the life of the shop attendant?   Hell no But  let the law appear to be just and equal for all

      • Anonymous says:

        Make that had been a local officer or a officer from the Caribbean…. And you would see a different outcome….

  10. Lord Denning of Rock Hole says:

    Excellent commentary by CNS.

    Without adherence to the Rule of Law and equality before the law these islands will have anarchy. Justice must be done and also seen to be done.

    • Anonymous says:

      Agreed….100%

      • Anonymous says:

        I am not a fan of Baines but frankly speaking, I support him in his actions against the [suspects] in the New Years Heist in George Town. It's easy to sit back and say "this and that" about the use of force but when faced with a real situation where [suspects may be] armed and robbing around tourist area's at 8:00am, this police action must be "firm and swift".

        Armed criminals should not be allowed to roam the streets especially in areas where thousands of tourists gather. Other jurisdictions such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other caribbean territorires, robbers would be "shot dead" if confronted by armed police. You cannot deal with armed criminals like "pussy dolls" but deal with them for who they really are, "menaces to society"

        If there is an investigation that is conducted on Baines, it should be done by another senior police officer from a British Overseas Territory. I also understand that it's RCIPS policy that any police officer involved in a motor vehicle accident in a police vehicle, they should voluntarily give a "breath test" for examination. My reliable sources indicate that none was given. This is not setting a good example, whether it's at 8:00am and you are off duty or not.      

        • Anonymous says:

          Not only no breath test but apparently no post accident investigation either. In fact what has been described by another media house as a 'probe' started so long after any real evidence had been lost it's a joke.

        • Anonymous says:

          Obviously you don't understand the meaning of the word "accident". He used his vehicle as a tool, there was noting accidental about his actions so none of the usual procedures relating to an accident would apply.

          • Anonymous says:

            Technically correct but splitting hairs.

            As it wasn't an RTC the procedures applying to a situation where an officer has injured a member of the public kick in here and that is still (or should be) a criminal investigation.

            The problem is that's not what happened. If the reports are correct nothing was done until the scene had been cleared up (as in compromised) and the CoP had gobbed off to the press.

            XXXX

    • Anonymous says:

      Yup! Agreed!

       

      Now if we could only get the criminals to agree to "rule of law" then the playing field would be level.