A review of the two investigations and subsequent disciplinary proceedings involving former Victoria Police Chief Const. Frank Elsner found the actions taken against the former chief were reasonable and appropriate.
But the report questioned the discipline process, stating discipline authorities, in cases like this, should not be local mayors as they do not have the expertise needed.
“It is a most serious event when a chief constable becomes the subject of a Police Act investigation because they occupy such a high position of public trust in the community and the justice system,” said the Office of Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) in a statement released late Wednesday morning. “It makes little sense to entrust the responsibilities of discipline authority to a person who lacks the requisite training and experience, and who may have little to no understanding of the complexities of the police discipline system.”
Commissioner Stan Lowe also noted that since the chair of a municipal police board is also the mayor of the municipality, there is an inherent conflict of interest, especially in regards to proceedings that could impact the municipality’s budget.
In this case, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins co-chaired the administration of the internal discipline process.
After reviewing the matter, Lowe formally recommended the government amend the Police Act so when a misconduct matter involving a chief constable or deputy chief constable requires a discipline authority, that authority should be a retired judge, not a mayor.
Elsner quit the force in May 2017, after being suspended and following a dispute over the handling of discoveries that he exchanged “salacious and sexually charged” Twitter messages with the wife of a subordinate officer.
An internal investigation by the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board was launched in August 2015 after the situation was brought to light. The female officer was a member of the Saanich Police Department, while her husband was under Elsner’s command in Victoria.
Elsner apologized for his behaviour and the police board voted to keep him on as chief, while imposing disciplinary measures.
According to a past report, the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board previously had not provided the OPCC with records of allegations of workplace harassment involving Elsner, even though the matter surfaced during an internal investigation launched by the police board.
A member of the Victoria police union executive brought the allegation to the attention of the OPCC.
The allegations pertain to unwanted physical contact with female staff at the police department, making unwelcome remarks of a sexual nature and inappropriate comments that could be seen to objectify female staff members.
A report on the investigation was eventually sent to the OPCC, which ordered two public trust investigations. The findings of which were released Wednesday.
The report revealed claims that Elsner pressed his groin against one officer’s buttocks and during a dinner in 2015 approached another female officer in the hallway at VicPD headquarters and held her by both arms with her back against or close to a wall. Inappropriate comments were also made towards one of the women during training exercises.
In his report, Lowe noted “for women to feel safe and valued in policing, it is especially crucial that the most senior officers conduct themselves with integrity and respect … His conduct caused emotional harm and violated the dignity of the affected parties, the gravity of which is amplified by his position of power and the importance of the office held by a chief constable.”
Elsner was found to have committed a total of eight acts of misconduct under the Police Act.
Some of the acts stemmed from the relationship he had with a subordinate’s wife and the actions he took to cover up that misconduct.
The retired judges, acting as discipline authorities in the investigations, imposed a number of punishments on Elsner including a 30-day suspension, demotion in rank to constable, training in ethical standards, training for harassment and sensitivity, and ultimately dismissal from policing. Those disciplines will be recorded on his service record as he had already quit when the investigations were completed.
According to Lowe, the findings and accompanying discipline measures are unprecedented in Canadian policing.