As the allegations of misconduct mount against Victoria police Chief Frank Elsner, many people are left wondering whether it’s even possible for him to return to his post if he’s cleared of any wrongdoing.
According to Glen Shiels, acting president of the Victoria police union, the morale amongst officers and the day-to-day operations is fine in light of the chief’s absense, but many are eager to have the matter put to rest.
“I think there’s a sense of frustration in that we want to put this behind us, but we want to respect that there’s a process in place. We simply have to be patient and let that process unfold,” said Shiels, who isn’t hopeful the ongoing investigations into the chief’s conduct will be wrapped up by the end of the year.
It’s too early to think about what if Elsner comes back, he added, but officers still feel the same as when they unanimously voted in December that the chief’s leadership is of concern.
“We’ve lost confidence, so nothing’s changed in that regard…We’d love to comment (on the allegations) but we don’t want to get into a whole he said, she said. We’d just rather let the investigators take their time.”
The drama began last August when the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board launched an internal investigation after a concern was brought to their attention regarding private messages exchanged on Twitter between Elsner and the wife (a female officer from Saanich police) of an officer under his command.
An independent lawyer investigated the matter and concluded there was no inappropriate relationship, but there was inappropriate use of direct messaging and social media. What those messages said has not been revealed.
The board voted to keep Elsner on as chief and imposed undisclosed discipline, but a report on the investigation was sent to the Office of the Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) — a civilian watchdog that oversees police conduct — to determine whether it was necessary to order a public trust investigation into the matter.
Commissioner Stan Lowe ordered two public trust investigations — one of them involving allegations of workplace harassment. The investigations were to be completed within six months, with Chief Superintendent Sean Bourrie of the RCMP assigned as chief investigator, along with a team of senior officers from Vancouver police.
Earlier this month, Lowe ordered a third investigation after new allegations of misconduct surfaced from information received during the first two ongoing investigations. Retired judge Ian Pitfield was appointed as the discipline authority on the matter and decided to suspend Elsner with pay.
The new allegations claim Elsner attempted to inappropriately influence potential witnesses during the internal investigation in 2015 and the current ongoing public trust investigations. It’s also alleged Elsner obtained access to the Victoria police information system and may have deleted or attempted to delete information relevant to the internal investigation.
In a statement to the media, Lowe asked the public not to rush to judgement or speculation about the allegations.
A retired mountie, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has been watching the case closely and noted allegations can fall through the cracks until the factual information can be supported by testimony or documents. If Elsner is allowed to return to his post, however, he’s not sure how well the chief would be accepted.
“When that public trust is undermined, it’s pretty hard to return and get over that credibility issue…It’s hard to step back into the shoes and be a role model,” said the retired mountie. “We still don’t know what the outcome of the three investigations are. If anybody returns to a position, which I don’t know if there’s a good history of, how well would they be accepted by their rank and file and the public?”
The investigation is slated to be wrapped up by the end of October unless it warrants an extension. Acting Chief Del Manak continues to take on the duties of chief constable.