VANCOUVER — Vancouver Police Detective Rob Givens grew up surrounded by people trying to save the world — or at least their corner of it. His mother, a teacher, was also a gifted storyteller.
“So I grew up with larger-than-life heroes,” says Givens, “Perseus, Beowulf, King Arthur. And I was very inspired by superheroes — Indiana Jones, Optimus Prime, Superman. I wanted to do something heroic. I was a very idealistic boy and young man.”
Givens was planning on a career in the military. But a knee injury in Marine Officer Candidate School ended that dream.
“Everything came to a screeching halt,” says Givens. “It was the hardest year of my life. I had no direction, no idea what I wanted to do.”
He ended up selling stereos. Then one day he had an epiphany.
“There were two paramedics in the shop,’’ Givens says. “Suddenly their radio went off, and they ran out mid-sentence. I realized I’d gone off the rails, and I needed to get back on. I said, ‘I gotta get out of this before it kills me.’”
He spent four years as an Oregon State Trooper. Then, in 2003, he was hired by the Vancouver Police Department. Since 2014, he’s been with the Digital Evidence Cybercrime Unit (DECU). DECU deals with digital evidence for various crimes. But 90 percent of their caseload deals with crimes against children.
“The bad guys aren’t lurking in parks and malls anymore,” Givens says. “They’re online.”
The majority of his work is online research.
“I’m following digital breadcrumbs that lead me to bad guys,” he says. “Then writing search warrants for records. Some field work. Then getting search warrants, and we move in on an arrest.”
Detective Rob Givens offers the following internet-use suggestions to parents: (Givens’ contract includes a “reach out and touch” rule — you must know a person in real life before adding them as a friend; a parent must install new apps and add new friends; sneaking results in everything being taken away; don’t play with friends who lie to their parents; never disclose your school, school mascot or town online; don’t talk to strangers online; and if something makes you uncomfortable, stop immediately and find a parent — even if the person involved is a friend.)
Detective Rob Givens offers the following internet-use suggestions to parents:
(Givens’ contract includes a “reach out and touch” rule — you must know a person in real life before adding them as a friend; a parent must install new apps and add new friends; sneaking results in everything being taken away; don’t play with friends who lie to their parents; never disclose your school, school mascot or town online; don’t talk to strangers online; and if something makes you uncomfortable, stop immediately and find a parent — even if the person involved is a friend.)
A case can take anywhere from three months to over a year, and Givens figures he works 48-50 hours a week.
“We’re all overwhelmed,” he says. “I have a five-apple basket, and every morning I come in and there are 20 apples in front of me. So we’re in a constant state of triage.”
But long hours and a heavy caseload aren’t the worst parts of the job.
“There’s a misconception that child pornography is nudity,” says Givens. “It’s not. It’s the moment a child is being abused and tortured, frozen in time. The constant bombardment is very stressful, Very disturbing. It has a grave effect on me.”
But, he says, DECU is a very close unit.
“We keep an eye on each other,’’ Givens says. “And my supervisor is great. ‘If you need a break,’ he says, ‘go lift weights. Go grab a cup of coffee.’”
Givens’ wife helps him carry the load, as well.
“I come home and share every ugly thing with her,” he says. “She’s tough. But it’s very difficult.”
Married almost 20 years, Givens has two boys and a girl, all pre-teen.
“My time when I’m most alive,” he says, “is spending time with my wife, and spending time with my kids. And it’s very therapeutic for what I do.”
Givens has coached youth football, and been a Cub Scout Den Leader.
“And I’m a nerd,” he says. “And I have nerd friends I spend time with. And I enjoy painting. And building models, drawing, painting miniatures. I need the creativity. And — I’ve talked to my wife — I want to learn to play the cello. And we go to church. I’m a walking stereotype — a Catholic, Scotch-Irish cop.”
But it’s still a job that goes home with him.
“You can’t do this without it changing you,” says Givens, “and without it changing the way you look at your children out in the world. They’re like the preacher’s son or daughter online. We have very strict restrictions. We’ve talked with them very bluntly and very directly about what I do for a living. And about the bad guys, and how to protect yourself against them. You have to educate them. And not at 12 or 18, but at six, seven, and eight (years old).”
Givens says he makes presentations where he holds up his phone and asks what it is.
“And people say, ‘This is a phone,” Givens says. “No. It’s a computer that can also make phone calls. It’s a two-way door. You can go through that door and find all the knowledge of humanity. But people can also come into your home through that door. You lock your door at night. You need to lock your devices.”
“People tell me, ‘I trust my child,’” says Givens. “OK, but would you trust your child with dynamite, or a loaded firearm, without education and training? Trust, but verify.”
Givens is quick to say that there’s a link between watching child pornography and abusing children.
“Oh, yeah,” he says. “It is not uncommon when conducting a child pornography investigation to find that hands-on offenses have been occurring for years. There’s a direct correlation, from my experience.”
He also sees a connection between viewing adult pornography and viewing child pornography.
“I’ve seen it during interviews,” he says. “It starts with adult pornography. But eventually that no longer gets a reaction. So it progresses. That’s not the right word. It intensifies. Adult pornography is definitely a potential springboard into child pornography.”
When he’s at home, Givens is concerned not only with criminal use of the web, but with addictive use.
“The wonder of the internet is that when my son and I have a question about the War of 1812, we don’t have to go to the library,’’ he says. “When we want to know more about John Paul Jones, we can read about it. It’s fantastically wonderful. It’s a wonderful tool. But I’m very wary of tech addiction. It’s so easy for them to get into TV and video games. I try to steer him away from being a slave to the screen. I play a lot of games with my son. We play strategy games — Axis and Allies.
“But I’m not immune,” he adds. “My wife has to tap me. ‘Put your phone down.’ I get a phone call and I check it, then I think, I’m gonna check my email while I’m here.”
“But I tell my kids, you’ll never remember when you completed the 25th level of Call of Duty,” he says. “But you’ll remember for the rest of your life a tackle you had in an obscure football game as a pre-teen. You’ll remember your prom date. What she looked like. What she smelled like. The screen is a temporary distraction. Really what we’re here for is life.”