“Stop Snitching”: Witness intimidation in Cayman Loop Cayman Islands

The content originally appeared on: Cayman Compass

According to statistical information published about crime in the Cayman Islands, about 30,000 incidents are reported to police every year. However, none of these “incidents” are recorded as crimes until evidence is presented, witnesses are obtained and the matter reaches its end, usually in the form of a conviction of the criminal. Unfortunately, some of these incidents remain unresolved or cannot be proven as crimes because the police cannot get witnesses to talk. In some cases, witnesses are afraid or intimidated. In other cases, they just don’t want to help the police.

Intimidation

Intimidation can come in the form of phone calls, emails or letters to a victim or witness. It can also be expressed via physical gestures by the criminal (stares, showing up in the court room where the witness is to testify or driving by the house of the victim or witness), which, even if not further translated into actual contact with a witness or victim, strikes fear into the witness or victim, resulting in them not testifying or otherwise not giving evidence.

To put intimidation into numbers, a study on witness intimidation published in The University of Chicago Press said:

A survey in the Bronx courts in 1988 found astonishing levels of intimidation: 36 percent of victims and witnesses said they had been threatened, 57 percent of those who had not been explicitly threatened feared reprisals, and 71 percent of witnesses said they would feel threatened if the defendants were released on bail.

Years later, in 2019, US Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (both D-Md.), in the process of introducing the Witness Security and Protection Grant Program Act of 2019, indicated that this type of intimidation was ongoing.

Congressman Cummings said:

Without witnesses who feel safe working with police officers, the wheels of justice come to a screeching halt. Witness intimidation remains a significant challenge across the nation, and we have seen people intimidated and even killed in Baltimore for trying to help bring about justice.

Bringing the focus back to Cayman, witnesses or victims in Cayman may have a valid fear of not only what could happen to them in connection with a case pending and to be brought to court, but also what could harm could reach them or their families if the suspect is released on bail or gets out of jail after only spending a short time in prison. In these cases, the criminal could seek revenge, which is often a risk that some witnesses are unwilling to take.

Lack of trust in law enforcement

Separate and apart from how a criminal could retaliate, some people are just concerned about the confidentiality of their statements to police. Regarding this, members of the public say that confidentiality may be under threat because, in some cases, the suspect learns that the witness has given a statement, which could only happen if the witness tells the suspect that he or she gave a statement to the police or someone close to the police informs the suspect.

In other cases, members of the public say that their lack of trust in the police has grown because they have brought several matters to the attention of law enforcement in the past, however, the police are either slow to deal with the matters or are perceived by community members to entirely ignore the concerns. In many of these cases, police have tried to explain that a process is involved that they must go through, which takes time, or they just don’t have sufficient resources (i.e., they are short staffed or there is no more money in the police budget) to deal with everything at once.

How the police can turn things around

Police in Cayman have been making efforts to improve trust and confidence in law enforcement by becoming more engaged in community activities and getting to know residents on a one-on-one basis. This takes the form of community meetings where the police attend, listen to residents’ concerns and provide updates on actions taken or proposed to resolve issues. In other cases, the police organise basketball tournaments with young people where they get an opportunity to interact with the most vulnerable members of the community and help guide them as to the right track.

Other ways the justice system can assist

In relation to the criminal justice system and the protection of witnesses to crimes in communities, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (while commenting on member states) says that “victims who receive appropriate and adequate care and support are more likely to cooperate with the criminal justice system in bringing perpetrators of crime to justice.”

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime added further that:

All criminal justice systems have a duty to put in place procedures to provide measures for the protection of persons whose cooperation with the criminal justice system in an investigation or prosecution, puts them, or persons closely associated with them, at risk of serious physical or emotional harm. Such measures may include:

Assistance before and during trial to cope with the psychological and practical obstacles of testifyingProtective measures before, during and after hearing or trial for “at risk” witnessesCourt procedures to ensure the witness’ safety while testifyingA covert witness protection programme

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime was careful to note, however, that challenges “in providing assistance and protection measures to victims and witnesses of crime are compounded when such organized crimes are also transnational.”

Adequate witness protection measures may be in place in one country, but fail to protect them against threats present in others for lack of cooperation mechanisms. This transnational challenge highlights the need for a higher degree of international cooperation.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime explained.

So, even if a Cayman witness is transferred overseas pending trial, the witness may still be exposed to harm if the criminal has contacts overseas and learns about the whereabouts of the witness through organised crime contacts overseas.

Anonymous tips to police

Bearing in mind the challenges above, the police in Cayman frequently encourage members of the public to send anonymous tips if they do not want to show up in person to give a statement. These tips can be provided directly to the police via the police’s Confidential Tip Line at 949-7777 or via the RCIPS website at https://www.rcips.ky/submit-a-tip. By giving an anonymous tip, you can bring a matter to the attention of the police and help them prevent a crime or find a criminal without you experiencing fear or intimidation.