Victoria police chief seeks forgiveness after exchanging inappropriate messages

Frank Elsner will continue to lead VicPD, police board decides; he asks for forgiveness after exchanging messages with subordinate officer's wife that took on a "personal tone."

Victoria’s police chief is asking for forgiveness from his troops and the public after he exchanged inappropriate messages on social media with the wife of an officer under his command.

Chief Frank Elsner told the Times Colonist on Sunday that he was the subject of a police board investigation that concluded Friday. He maintains the confidence of the board and has addressed his department.

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He said he is “humiliated” by what happened. “You want to talk about being disappointed in yourself; I don’t have words for it,” Elsner said.

Elsner explained he exchanged Twitter direct messages on his personal account, linked to his personal email, with the wife of one of his Victoria police officers. She is also a police officer, working for a neighbouring police department.

“It wasn’t a friendship,” Elsner said. “It was strictly work and the messages just took on a far more personal tone and that’s when I sent a message saying: Listen, please stop, this cannot continue or go any further.”

Elsner declined to say whether or not a photo was involved.

The police chief said there were messages at three different times.

“After the third one I said that’s it,  this is just silly,  so it was stopped,” Elsner said. “I was the one who stopped it, not because I got caught.”

Three months later, in September, he learned of the police board investigation.

Elsner said he spoke to his wife, with whom he has two daughters, and spoke to his subordinate, the husband of the woman with whom he exchanged Twitter messages.

“He wanted to know if there was an inappropriate relationship and I had assured him there had not been,” Elsner said.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, lead co-chair of the civilian police board, said a concern was raised at the end of August.

Victoria’s civilian police board is legally responsible for oversight of the Victoria police force.

In consultation with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, it was determined that an internal investigation was appropriate. An independent lawyer was hired and an investigation with interviews ensued, she said.

The findings of that investigation, which came back a couple of weeks ago, found no inappropriate relationship had occurred but that there was an inappropriate use of social media, Desjardins said.

Asked if an image was involved, she would only say that “within Twitter messages there is the opportunity for that as well.”

Desjardins and deputy co-chair Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps decided on discipline and shared the results of the report with the board Friday. The board expressed continued confidence in the chief, Desjardins said.

“As soon as something came to our attention, the investigation came up with those two findings, the board has been apprised of the report as well as the disciplinary authority’s response, as has the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and in my mind that is a completion of the process,” Desjardins said.

Elsner, 52, came to lead Victoria’s police department about two years ago after serving as chief of the Greater Sudbury Police Department, as well as with the RCMP and Ontario Provincial Police. He first joined the RCMP in 1982.

“I love the job, I love the people, I love our community,” Elsner said. “This was a momentary lapse, something I sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, regret. It will never happen again. It’s time to get back to business.”

Elsner has set a tone of being transparent and approachable, even via social media. As rumours swirled, he said he was unable to address them.

“I wasn’t allowed to do anything until the investigation was over. It concluded on Friday.”

The police chief said he has sent a statement to his department.

“I’ve sent email to all our people being very open and apologizing for the distraction I’ve caused, and now it’s time to get back to work,” Elsner said.

“This is an internal personnel matter,” Elsner said. “If this was anyone other than me our response to anyone, including media, would be this is an internal personnel matter and we will never discuss it.

“Because it is me ... I think it is important the public has a right to have full confidence in their chief and that they know I’m a human being, and I made a mistake, and I’m asking for their forgiveness and moving on.”

Desjardins said the chief has done “positive, positive” work for both Victoria and Esquimalt. “I would be very concerned if this derails that.”

Hopefully the chief and his officers will pull together, Desjardins said.

“He has done some amazing work in a very short time and that has been to the benefit of two communities,” Desjardins said. “He has been front and centre to bring two communities together.” 

The police board’s decision will be reviewed by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, as is the normal process, Desjardins said.

The Vancouver Sun, which first reported the story earlier Sunday, confirmed the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner received an internal investigation report. Commissioner Stan Lowe, who is the civilian watchdog that oversees police conduct issues, will review the report and has the power to order his own investigation if he identifies issues that are matters of public trust, said deputy commissioner Rollie Woods, the Sun reported.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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