Police board hopeful officers will work through chief controversy

Esquimalt Mayor and police board co-chair Barb Desjardins remains hopeful Elsner’s leadership will be instilled.

It’s been nearly a week since Victoria’s police chief Frank Elsner apologized for exchanging inappropriate Twitter messages with the wife of one of his officers.

But despite the disappointment and shock expressed by front-line officers in the days that followed, Esquimalt Mayor and police board co-chair Barb Desjardins remains hopeful Elsner’s leadership will be instilled.

“I think there’s concern within the force. I want to have an opportunity to sit down with some of the members,” said Desjardins. “From the community, I am hearing a lot of people saying this is not news, these things happen, people are human and let’s get on with it. And he has done a great job in the last few years.”

In August, the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board launched an internal investigation after a concern was brought to their attention about whether Elsner was involved in an inappropriate relationship. According to reports, private messages were exchanged on Twitter between Elsner and the wife (a female officer from Saanich) 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.

“There’s a policy we have for use of social media and that policy was breached,” said Desjardins. “I know everyone wants to know what was on the tweets, but I think the reality is that we have dealt with the process, we’ve done everything we can, we do not feel that this was a public trust level nor did our advisors.”

In a statement released Wednesday, the police union said it has no confidence in the way the board and its chairs handled the incident. The union also stated it has no confidence in Elsner’s ability to continue to lead.

Earlier this week, Elsner offered a public apology and sent an email to his staff, noting he wanted to put a number of rumours to rest.

“I should not have engaged in sending any direct messages. It’s beneath me, I know better and I’m completely humiliated by the whole situation,” said Elsner, who’s married with two children.

“I was the one that stopped it before it became more ridiculous than it was. I saw that and told my wife about it because this is a personal matter.”

A report on the investigation is now being reviewed by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner — a civilian watchdog that overseas police conduct. The commissioner will determine whether it is necessary to order a public trust investigation into the matter.

Regardless of the outcome from the review, the commissioner said he intends to report to the public at the conclusion in order to preserve public confidence in the investigation of police misconduct and the administration of police discipline.

Last Friday, the Victoria police board voted to keep Elsner on as chief. Desjardins isn’t sure what impact the outcome of the police complaint commissioner review will have on their decision, but noted the internal investigation was supposed to be kept confidential.

She’s “extremely concerned” that confidentiality was breached and leaked to the public, and now fears it could prevent others from coming forward if they have a concern.

“There are many complaints that go through the process and are determined not to be affecting the work being done…and some of them are absolutely unfounded, which is why you need that confidentiality,” she said, adding the board now has to figure out how to move forward.

“The man is a good officer, a good chief, he’s done a lot for our community. I think at the end of the day, if our members of our police force can take a look at where we’ve come from and where we are now in terms of the great work with the community and how the community’s feeling like they are being heard, I’m hopeful that everyone can work through it, but that will remain to be seen.”

Elsner came to Victoria about two years ago and previously served as chief of the Greater Sudbury Police Department in Ontario. The 52-year-old is the third Victoria police chief in a row to be investigated for questionable behaviour.

 

 

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