VICTORIA – A former Victoria police chief “caught in a web of untruths” was handed unprecedented disciplinary action Wednesday after a review found Frank Elsner committed eight acts of misconduct under British Columbia’s Police Act.
B.C. Police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe demoted Elsner to the rank of constable and dismissed him from policing after he reviewed investigations and discipline proceedings involving the former chief.
Lowe said in a statement that Elsner’s police record will also state that faced a 30-day suspension and was required to take training for harassment and sensitivity in connection with unwanted contact with a female officer.
“These findings and the accompanying discipline measures are unprecedented in Canadian policing,” said Lowe in an 11-page report.
Elsner had already resigned as chief in May last year. He could not be reached for comment about the ruling.
The investigations and discipline proceedings before two retired judges were held after a 2015 Victoria police board investigation examined reports that Elsner sent inappropriate Twitter messages to a the wife of an officer in his department.
In the end, the commissioner determined Elsner committed eight acts of misconduct, including discreditable conduct, inappropriate use of police department equipment, deceit and attempting to procure a false statement.
Lowe’s report says Elsner lied to investigators, minimized an inappropriate relationship he had with the wife of one of his officers, attempted to convince another witness to provide a false statement, had unwanted physical contact with two female officers, made inappropriate sexual remarks towards an officer and misused the department’s equipment.
“I have reviewed the investigations and disciplinary processes concerning these matters and I have concluded that the decisions and discipline proposed by the discipline authorities are reasonable and appropriate based on the evidence,” says the report. “Therefore, I have determined that the decisions and discipline are final and conclusive.”
The report says the former chief, who also faced an allegation of misleading an internal investigator, changed facts to suit his story.
“It becomes clear on reviewing the former chief’s evidence that he is caught in a web of untruths,” says retired chief judge Carol Baird Ellan in her report on Elsner’s comments about his interactions with the wife of one of his officers. “Where he finds himself facing contradictory evidence, he tailors his statements to reveal only that part of the truth he feels he must, to address the established facts with which he is faced.”
Retired Justice Ian Pitfield found Elsner should face a 30-day suspension and undertake sensitivity training for three incidents of discreditable conduct involving two female officers that involve non-consensual conduct and violates the police department’s harassment policies.
In one incident, Elsner stood behind one female officer and pressed his groin against her buttocks, says Pitfield.
“Mr. Elsner’s action in relation to (officer A) amounts to the application of force, however minimal, without consent,” says Pitfield in the report. “As a police officer and chief constable, Mr. Elsner knew or ought to have known that the application of force, however minimal, to an individual constitutes an assault.”
Lowe said for women to feel safe and valued in policing, senior officers must conduct themselves with integrity and respect.
“The determinations of retired Judge Pitfield demonstrate the deficit in leadership the former chief exhibited,” Lowe says. “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.”
Lowe’s report also calls on the B.C. government to amend the Police Act to appoint retired judges to review misconduct proceedings that involve chiefs or their deputies. The current system involves police boards, which are usually made up of local mayors and council members.
Rollie Woods, deputy police complaint commissioner, said Wednesday that Elsner’s dismissal sends a strong message of deterrence to all senior police officers.
“For senior officers in B.C. it would be unwise for them to consider harassing their employees and think there would be no consequences because the consequences as we see in this case are quite clear.”