Vol. 79, No. 3Q & A

Man sits at desk behind computer.

Hunting online predators

'Saving more kids keeps me going'

RCMP Cpl. Jared Clarke is one of 11 police officers who work in Saskatchewan's Internet Child Exploitation Unit, which includes police from Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Regina. Credit: Courtesy of Cpl. Jared Clarke

For the past five years, RCMP Cpl. Jared Clarke has worked as an investigator on Saskatchewan's Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) team. His expertise has helped crack numerous cases — rescuing dozens of children from their abusers both locally and abroad. Amelia Thatcher spoke to Clarke about how he keeps up with changing technologies to catch online predators.

How big of a problem is child exploitation in Canada?

It's a huge problem. I get between 75 and 100 cases per year. One of my bigger files, the Russell Wolfe investigation in Saskatoon, Sask., has been on my desk since 2014. We discovered large-scale, hands-on abuse and found out that there were 14 local victims. In 2014, that was one of my 100 cases, but that single case took hundreds — if not thousands — of investigative hours.

What types of investigations do you work on?

There are both reactive and proactive investigations. Reactive files come from parents, detachments or the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre in Ottawa. Proactive files are when we go on the Internet to search out child exploitation crimes. In peer-to-peer investigations, we're dealing directly with offenders who are making available or distributing child exploitation photos and videos. Using this material, we can track down the IP address [a location identifier assigned by the Internet service provider] where the material came from, contact the service provider, get the name and home address of the suspect, and eventually get a search warrant.

Another proactive way of finding child exploitation suspects is through online covert communication — that's what I specialize in. I can go online as a child and be lured by offenders, or I can pretend to be an offender talking to another offender. In both cases, it comes down to social engineering: the profile you create, the persona you emulate and the lingo you use.

What challenges do you face?

There are many. The rapid evolution of technology is a challenge, whether it's keeping up with the latest apps and software programs or the security systems and operating systems that encrypt data. Now, a lot of computers encrypt all their data when it's locked or powered off. Same goes for cellphones too. Another challenge is the content; it's getting worse and it's getting more graphic and extreme. You can hold a stiff upper lip all you want, but when you deal with that stuff, it sticks with you.

How often is this technology changing?

Day-to-day and week-to-week. And it differs in different parts of the country — an app that's popular in Saskatchewan won't necessarily be used elsewhere. I was a fairly average computer user when I started working here. But as long as you're willing to learn and immerse yourself into it, the computer is a tool for us. Just like motorcycles are tools for traffic cops — you have to learn how to ride it to be good at your job.

What do other front-line officers need to know about these cases?

People ask: 'How do you tell who the bad guy is walking down the street?' And I tell them there's no mould or profile for an offender. We've had every kind of person from the basement dweller to teachers, business professionals and unfortunately other police officers. I tell other officers to get a hold of an ICE unit early to get direction. They're very complex investigations and there are steps that need to be taken when seizing computers and devices. If it's not done properly, you can lose that data. And once it's gone, there's slim chance of getting it back.

What keeps you doing this type of work?

Our ultimate goal is to save kids. It's both the best day ever and the worst day ever when you get a case where live abuse has occurred — it's terrible because it's happening, but great because you're going to be able to stop it and get kids out of a bad spot. So with that, it's the most rewarding work I've done in 12 years of policing. I've had a number of files where we've identified live local victims; I just got another one on my desk right now with the potential to save a number of kids overseas. So, even though I'm sitting at the bottom of this mountain looking up, the thought of being able to save more kids, that's what keeps me going.

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