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Police theft: Missing drugs, missing answers

Cayman Compass,
BYLINE: Cayman Compass Editorial Board

George Town, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies

On July 13, someone, or “someones,” broke into a police evidence locker and absconded with 24 kilograms of cocaine and 33 kilograms of ganja. Based on analogous law enforcement estimates, the respective “street values” of those drugs would be nearly $1 million.

The recent revelation made by Police Commissioner David Baines – that suspected corrupt police officers are under investigation over the theft – could be cause for greater confidence in the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service or, potentially, the reverse.

The narrative promulgated by officials since the July break-in has over time, let’s say, “evolved.”

Right after the event occurred, the police issued a brief statement containing the following information:

There was an attempted break-in the night of July 13 at a container behind the George Town Police Station, storing old evidence and drugs awaiting disposal.

The padlocks on the container were broken but nothing was missing.

“Police have processed the scene and determined that nothing was taken from the container, possibly because the culprit(s) were interrupted by security checks of the grounds,” according to police.

Two months later, police revised their assessment of what had happened, and what had gone missing, namely “a quantity of illegal drugs,” according to a Compass news report that appeared Sept. 15.

A police statement said, “In addition to pursuing the culprits of this break-in and theft, we are reviewing internal controls and procedures with respect to the handling and storage of evidence.”

After the passage of another month, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson was asked about the topic in the Legislative Assembly by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush. Under formal questioning on Oct. 15, Mr. Manderson revealed the amounts and types of drugs that were stolen. He also said that arrests had been made in connection with the theft and that further police warrants would be issued in the near future. (Just recently, however, police told the Compass that no specific arrests had been made in relation to the break-in …)

Following Mr. Manderson’s remarks, officials again went silent on the theft – until Nov. 27, when Commissioner Baines dropped his bombshell about corrupt police officers while speaking on the “CrossTalk” morning show on Rooster FM.

Mr. Baines also said that investigators weren’t able to confirm that the drugs had been stolen from the evidence locker until at least a week after the theft occurred, well after the initial statement on the incident had been issued.

The possible involvement of police in the theft may help explain why Commissioner Baines and other officials have trickled out the details of the crime as they have. That is, to borrow Commissioner Baines’s words, an “operational decision to pursue lines of inquiry covertly.”

The commissioner said two investigations are ongoing:

An internal one, to ferret out who within the police tipped off the thieves about the existence of the drugs, and

A criminal one, “against suspects who have been identified.”

We at the Compass understand frustrations caused by the perception that police aren’t being as forthcoming about an investigation as we’d perhaps like them to be.

On the other hand, as veteran observers of the realities of law enforcement, we realize that, particularly when facing the possibility of internal corruption, police often have legitimate reasons for not telling the public all that they know, right when they know it.

The ultimate test of whether our faith in the actions of our police is justified occurs, of course, in the courtroom – once arrests have been made, charges filed and evidence laid bare for everyone to view.

Commissioner Baines said, “If I’ve got corrupt officers, I don’t need to broadcast it. I need to do something positive. I need to convict them and get them out of the service.”

We agree, and for the sake of the reputation of the RCIPS, the sooner the better.

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