Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cayman Islands: Violent Crimes Appears as an Illusion Until It Becomes Irreversible

"Armed robberies plague popular tourist venues”--the headline could have been ripped from the pages of the Jamaica Gleaner, Nassau Guardian or Trinidad Express.

Unfortunately, it isn’t. It’s from Monday’s (October 20) edition of The Cayman Compass, and that is what is truly shocking.

Our story details a recent string of brazen, violent crimes targeting businesses and people in downtown George Town and along the Seven Mile Beach strip, in addition to the bevy of break-ins and burglaries occurring with frightening regularity across Grand Cayman.

Here are but two chilling examples that occurred last week:

Last Monday just before 2300 hours, two masked gunmen walked into Da Fish Shack on North Church Street, robbed a customer of cash and a cellphone, stole a cellphone from an employee, and left with the bar’s cash register.

Last Thursday at about 2330 hours, two masked gunmen barged into a local business, this time Coconut Joe’s on West Bay Road. They threatened and robbed customers and staff of cash and possessions.

Chamber of Commerce President Johann Moxam called on the government to combat the increasing number of aggressive crimes against people and property, saying, “A line in the sand must be drawn. Everyone in the system has to do their part if we are to defeat the scourge of criminal element that is growing today.”

Johann Moxam is correct…to a point.

We would add, however, that when those gunmen strolled cavalierly--handguns brandished and cowardly faces shielded from cameras and witnesses--into those two popular establishments, any “line in the sand” that could be drawn was crossed right then and there.

To anyone whose livelihood depends on Cayman’s ability to lure tourists and foreign professionals--and that, indeed, is everyone in this country--the fact that those gunmen, along with the perpetrators of many other recent crimes, remain at large and roaming freely, should be both frightening and unacceptable.

Once Cayman loses its reputation for being a safe place to live and visit, it will be nearly impossible to re-establish it…ever.

There is no justification for authorities not to address Cayman’s serious crime problem in a serious way, and right now. The heads of our country’s criminal justice system must work effectively, efficiently and, most importantly, in a coordinated manner. There must be commonality of purpose…and resolve.

All four pillars of the criminal justice system must cooperate and coordinate their efforts. In fact, here are four “musts”:

1.     The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service must step up its visible presence within the community--particularly in areas heavily frequented by residents and tourists after dark – and focus its efforts on violent crimes, those that involve guns, physical harm and threats to the populace and its possessions:

2.   The Director of Public Prosecutions and Attorney General’s Chambers must prosecute violent offenders aggressively and expeditiously;

3.   The judiciary must ensure that cases are handled quickly and that convicted defendants receive sentences appropriate to the severity of their crimes; and

4.   Prison officials must be prepared to cope with an influx of inmates resulting from this “tough-on-crime” approach.

Whatever resources, support or legislative changes that the four entities can justify in order to do their job effectively, they should receive immediately. Those resources, should, however, be linked directly to demonstrable results.

In the long term, of course, being “tough” is not enough. To get to the root of Cayman’s crime problem will require a far more complex and sustained effort, involving, for example, education, employment, social services and rehabilitation.

Immediately, however, we must demonstrate zero tolerance for the crimes (and criminals) that are currently creating the headlines. To date, the response to the growing cancer of crime in Cayman has been soft and sociological, largely rhetorical, and certainly ineffective. That must change, beginning now.

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