West Shore RCMP say they handled 39 child-pornography investigations in 2022, more than twice the 19 cases they dealt with in 2021.
For the Serious Crime Unit, responsible for investigating crimes including attempted murder, aggravated assault, robbery and firearms-related offences, most of its investigations were linked to child pornography — involving those under 18.
“The officers in the Serious Crime Unit are extremely dedicated and invest enormous effort into investigating these terrible crimes,” said the unit’s Sgt. Thana Hodge.
Recent convictions include:
• In February, a 33-year-old man was convicted of possession of child pornography and sentenced to a seven-month conditional sentence order and 18 months probation. The investigation took about eight months.
• A man received an 18-year jail sentence in January after being convicted of sexual assault, invitation to sexual touching, and possession and production of child pornography after an investigation that took about a year.
• In December, a 28-year-old man was convicted of sexual assault and sexual interference and was sentenced to two years less a day in jail after a two-year investigation.
• Also in December, a 30-year-old man was convicted of possession of child pornography, distribution of child pornography and counselling others to commit an offence, and sentenced to four years in jail after an investigation of about a year.
• A 40-year-old man was convicted in November of being in possession of child pornography, and sentenced to 18 months in jail and two years probation following an investigation of about two-and-a-half years.
• A 28-year-old woman was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail in September after being convicted of luring a child under 16 and two counts of sexual assault. The investigation took about 18 months.
Investigations can span months or years because they can be “quite intense,” said Cpl. Nancy Saggar.
“They are very complex, they’re heavy on police resources,” she said.
“They oftentimes require officers to do surveillance, write search warrants and enlist the help of tech-crime specialists to examine enormous amounts of visual data.”
Twenty-five of the 39 cases from 2022 are still under investigation.
Officers working on such cases are often exposed “to some of the most horrific imagery that you’ll ever see,” Saggar said.
“So they are very, very difficult investigations, not just on the technical aspect, also on the mental-health aspect of our officers.”
Supports are in place to help the officers deal with difficulties that arise for them, she said.
“This is a tough job.”
It is difficult to say why the number of cases is rising, Saggar said, but it could be partly tied to the West Shore’s rapid population growth.
“The more population growth that you see, the more growth in investigations you’ll see on all levels, not just with child pornography.”
She also cited technological advancements “where independent internet providers that notice that this type of activity is taking place are now reporting it to police.”
Sites that are required to report include social-media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, Saggar said.
Along with that, the B.C. Integrated Child-Exploitation Unit run by the RCMP connects with other agencies around the world, she said.
“Sometimes information and tips come forward that way, as well.”
Saggar said she does not know about trends in other jurisdictions, but said increased cases in the West Shore have been happening year over year and are expected to rise again in 2023.
“It’s alarming,” she said. “I don’t think anybody wants to believe that this exists in their community, but it does and its something that’s very important for us to report on.
“Help is available. Talk to a trusted adult, come to the police and report it, we are here to help you.”
People can also get information at victimsinfo.ca, she said.