A regional network of drug and arms traffickers takes on a new form

For much of the past decade, police in the Caribbean suspected that an inter-island drug and gun trafficking ring purchased used firearms on regional and US black markets and shipped them From one country to another.

However, senior officials from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service say new evidence suggests that may not be the case.

Talk with the Cayman Compass After the annual police statistics press conference on Wednesday, March 30, Detective Superintendent Peter Lansdown said surveys show that while guns and drugs often enter Cayman from neighboring islands, such as Jamaica, they are rarely returned.

“Gun trafficking in the Caribbean has not been proven by our forensic center,” said Lansdown, who leads criminal investigations at CHIN, among other roles.

In April 2017, Cayman became the ballistic center for British Overseas Territories in the region when the CHIN Forensic Unit opened a ballistics laboratory. Since then, he has handled numerous cases and Lansdown said the evidence gathered helped to evolve notions of a regional criminal syndicate.

“Certainly weapons that come to the island stay on the island and we have recently had indications that weapons have been used here for an extended period of three or four years,” Lansdown said. “But we had no indication that they were used in other jurisdictions in the Caribbean.”

Lansdown said most of the weapons that come into Cayman come from the United States, are shipped to Jamaica, and then are finally loaded onto drug boats bound for Cayman.

“The vast majority of weapons we have recovered are used, some very old and rusty but still serviceable,” Lansdown said. However, he added, “I remember a year ago was still in its box”, and noted that the weapons used in the gang killings in 2021 are models that had been made recently.

In 2021, police recovered six illegal firearms, the same as in 2020. Officers also seized 3,507 pounds of ganja and 5.5 pounds of cocaine – which had an estimated street value of $3.5 million and 500 000 dollars, respectively.

CHIN Deputy Commissioner Kurt Walton and Superintendent Brad Ebanks display firearms taken during a gun amnesty program in 2018. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

Police may never recover all illegal weapons

Detective Inspector Wade Chase leads the CHIN Crime Action Task Force. He and his team have seized three illegal firearms since the start of the year and are actively pursuing guns that have yet to be recovered.

“Well, it’s hard to say we can get all the guns back. However, I can say that we have a robust and proactive approach to prosecuting offenders with a firearm and, when information is provided, we act on it as quickly as possible,” Chase said.

In several cases, when a suspect has been arrested for a firearm-related crime and officers are unable to recover the firearm used, the suspect has been charged with possession of an imitation firearm. Chase said it was standard police practice to demonstrate that there is compelling evidence that the accused was in possession of a firearm.

He told the Compass that while it is unlikely that every unlicensed firearm will be recovered from the community, the amount seized will depend on the attitude of residents who are aware of the illegally armed individuals.

Freeze of assets

Police believe that instead of a network that recycles weapons by moving them from one Caribbean island to another, islands like Jamaica serve as a hub for the collection and eventual sale and distribution of weapons and drug. So, in order to stop the supply, agents hit drug dealers where it hurts the most – their wallets.

“Anytime we have a drug or firearm importation and there is a financial aspect, there will be a parallel financial investigation, looking for money and asset pathways,” he said. Lansdown. “Where that person profits from the crime, we will seize and freeze those assets.”

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