Victoria police chief on paid leave amid investigations
Victoria's police chief has stepped aside after an investigation into his social-media conduct with the wife of one of his officers escalated into allegations of breach of trust and discreditable conduct.
B.C.'s police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe announced Friday that RCMP Chief Supt. Sean Burrie will lead two Police Act investigations into eight allegations against Chief Const. Frank Elsner.
Once the investigations are complete, retired judges Carol Baird Ellan and Ian Pitfield will decide whether the chief's actions were misconduct, said Lowe.
Shortly after the announcement, Elsner told the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board he will voluntarily leave his post, pending the results of the investigations due in June, said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins who serves as the board's co-chairwoman.
"The chief conveyed the message to us by email that he voluntarily wants to step aside for the best of the department, for the best of the (police) board and for the best of all concerned until this investigation is done," said Desjardins.
Desjardins said Deputy Chief Del Manak will become acting chief and Elsner will remain on paid leave.
Elsner could not be immediately reached for comment.
"It's tragic," Desjardins said. "I know the community is concerned. I know there are members of that police department who are hurting."
She said the police board is preparing to call a meeting as early as Monday to review the issue.
When asked why the police board backed the chief when the allegations initially arose, Desjardins said, "There in no way was this a cover-up."
On Dec. 6, Elsner apologized, saying he was "truly sorry and humiliated," after a police-board investigation found Twitter messages he'd sent to another officer's wife were inappropriate.
Lowe's report contains allegations that Elsner provided misleading information to an investigator and contacted a witness during an internal investigation, including the officer whose wife the chief had messaged over Twitter. Elsner allegedly provided the officer with information that convinced him no further investigation into the matter was required, said the report.
The member's wife is reportedly a police officer in a neighbouring jurisdiction.
"I think the commissioner described that he feels these allegations are extremely serious," said Rollie Woods, deputy police complaint commissioner, in an interview. "That's the way we are treating it."
Lowe said in a statement he received more information last week from Victoria's police union, including allegations by four employees of workplace harassment starting in early 2014.
The union has already called for Elsner to be removed from his job for the "betrayal" of trust of his officers.
Acting union president Sgt. Glen Shiels said in a statement issued Friday that the union supports the investigations into Elsner's conduct.
Lowe's order for launching an external investigation against Elsner set out five circumstances that if substantiated would constitute misconduct, and his order said there is an overriding interest in proceeding with the investigations as a matter of public trust.
"The climate within the department appears to be in a state of tension and dissonance," said Lowe.
The Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board was notified about a concern involving the chief during the summer and hired a lawyer to investigate.
Although the investigation found his use of social media was inappropriate, the eight board members met in early December and decided the chief still had their "full confidence."