Inside ICE: The work, demands of Manitoba RCMP’s child exploitation unit

They’re stories that are alarming and hard to digest, and have been frequently making headlines in Manitoba: disturbing cases of sexual abuse, exploitation, and sextortion targeting children online.

It’s alarming material that officers in the Manitoba RCMP’s internet child exploitation — or ICE — unit must witness in detail and on a daily basis.

“There is an emotional toll this type of work does take,” Const. Izza Mian with the Manitoba RCMP ICE unit told Global News and 680 CJOB.

But it’s also work that is critically important to these officers.

“The work is so rewarding,” Const. Kirandeep Hira said. “To me, it’s important to help children who are so vulnerable and protect children who are so vulnerable.”

The internet child exploitation unit operates out the Manitoba RCMP’s headquarters in Winnipeg. Michael Draven / Global News

Seven officers work in the Manitoba RCMP’s ICE unit, investigating crimes against children that occur online or in a digital setting. The officers are prepared and trained for witnessing the disturbing material they are required to deal with.

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“We are exposed, it’s called ‘gentle exposure’, to some of the material that we are obviously going to be looking at and categorizing in the future,” Const. Grant Kummen said. “And we have to make sure that that’s something we are OK with looking at, dealing with — if it’s something that our psyche is going to allow us to continue dealing with.

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“Basically, they watch your reaction while you’re reacting to the imagery as well, and if you turn green and start throwing up all over the place, basically this isn’t something that’s probably built for you. But if you’re able to look at it sort of with a detached expression, then it’s something you can move forward with.”

Cst. Grant Kummen with the PlayStation set up inside the ICE unit. The PlayStation helps officers in investigation work, as many predators target and start communicating with children in gaming chatrooms. Michael Draven / Global News

Kummen adds the difficult work is worth it, if it means keeping children safe.

“I have children and small children and I weighed the pros and cons, but I thought at the end of the day it was more important that I was out there trying to make a difference and then apprehending the people that are trying to harm the children, than trying to bury my head in the sand,” he said.

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But still, the officers say the work can take a toll, even if you’ve become emotionally detached.

“We definitely have those moments where it’s like, man, I got to go for a walk. And we all kind of are understanding of that in the unit. You have some days where you come in and it’s like, man, I can’t look at this material. I just need to do something else,” Hira said.

“And because we kind of all understand the nature of the work and our supervisors understand the nature of the work, it’s almost encouraged to go for a walk around the block.”

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Kummen says that’s also something engrained in officers during their training.

“We have to go to Ottawa to take a large course on becoming an ICE member, and they also have presentations on different ways you can basically relax your mind,” he said.

“Whether it’s go play Tetris for 10 minutes to get your head out of it, Where’s Waldo, go look out a window, take a walk, exercise — a lot of us escape for an hour a day to go to the gym, it’s a good way just to unwind.”

The officers say while the job has its challenges, it also can be immensely rewarding, knowing they’re taking predators off the streets and ensuring the safety of children.

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“It is very rewarding. You definitely see the results of some of these investigations,” Mian said. “At the end of the day, you see the results and hard work that our unit puts in.”

“Even if we help one kid, I think that’s a big achievement to us,” Hira said.

“Tring to get some of these people off the street and to serve a little bit of justice in that sense I think that keeps probably most of us going, if not all of us.”

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