Victoria police Chief Frank Elsner has stepped aside while the RCMP conduct investigations into his inappropriate tweets and new allegations he harassed four department employees.

The two investigations were ordered on Friday by B.C.'s police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe, following his damning review of an internal police board investigation into the allegations. 

The Victoria chief's conduct was first called into question publicly when it was revealed that he had sent inappropriate messages on Twitter to a female officer on another force, who was married to one of his own officers.

Initially, the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board conducted an internal investigation into the matter, but concerns were raised about that investigation, by both the police union, and then today by commissioner Stan Lowe.

Among the concerns raised by Lowe in his review were the alleged improper documentation of witness interviews, obvious investigation avenues that were not explored, non-participation by important witnesses and the use of a work device for the inappropriate tweets.

Lowe was also concerned that the chief allegedly spoke to two witnesses while under orders not to, and provided misleading and inaccurate information to prevent the officer in question from filing a complaint against him.

2 investigations ordered

Those concerns led Lowe to order an external investigation into five allegations of discreditable conduct by Elsner.

That investigation will be conducted by a senior RCMP officer and a team from the Vancouver Police Department. Lowe has also appointed retired chief judge of the provincial court Carol Baird Ellan to determine if any discipline is required at the conclusion of the investigation.

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Complaints commissioner Stan Lowe, shown in 2008, has ordered the RCMP to lead two investigations into the conduct of Elsner. (CBC)

The second external investigation will look into new allegations by four Victoria police employees of harassment by Elsner.

It will also be led by a senior RCMP officer and a team of investigators from the Vancouver police. After it is concluded, retired B.C. Supreme Court justice Ian Pitfield will determine if any discipline is warranted.

"The allegations relate to alleged conduct that has been occurring on an ongoing basis since early 2014," said Lowe.

Little else is known about the new allegations, which were brought forward by the union, except that they appear to stem from a toxic atmosphere within the department.

"In my view, the current climate of relations that exists within the Victoria Police Department cannot be adequately addressed through internal processes. The climate within the department appears to be in a state of tension and dissonance," said Lowe.

"The public must have confidence in the effective and efficient operation of a police department; harmony and discipline within the workplace have a direct impact on its operations."

Elsner was not in the country on Friday when the review was released and was not available to comment on the investigations.

Victoria and Esquimalt mayors criticized

In his review, Lowe also raises concerns about statements to the media made earlier this month by the co-chairs of the police board, Esquimalt Mayor Barbara Desjardins and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, denying any investigation was underway.

In fact, the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board had known about the concerns during the summer and hired a lawyer to investigate.

Although the investigation found Elsner's use of social media was inappropriate, the eight board members met in early December and decided the chief still had their "full confidence."

"It was not until our office was contacted by journalists regarding comments made by Mayor Desjardins that I initiated contact (through counsel for the co-chairs) regarding my concerns about the accuracy of the comments in media reports."

"The mayor subsequently addressed my concerns, confirming that an internal investigation did in fact take place," wrote Lowe in his review.

Esquimalt Mayor Barbara Desjardins

Esquimalt Mayor Barbara Desjardins says no one intended to cover anything up, but the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board will review how it handled the internal investigation of Elsner's behavior.

Lowe was also concerned about information the mayors gave the officer whose wife had received the inappropriate tweets.

"It appears that the co-chairs did nothing to correct the member's misguided appreciation of the circumstances, despite the co-chairs knowing the information provided to the member was false and misleading," he said in his review.

"It is particularly troubling that [the member] still does not know about the Twitter exchanges between his spouse and the chief.

"As a result, there continues to be a risk of further workplace consequences should those Tweets be exposed."

Lowe was so concerned by the conduct of the mayors that he decided to appoint the two retired judges to take their place as the discipline authority after the investigations.

"I consider it necessary in the public interest that a person other than the co-chairs of the Victoria Police Board be the discipline authority for all purposes pursuant to the act," he wrote in his review.

After the review was released, Desjardins responded that her actions were not an attempt to cover up anything, and the police board would be reviewing its handling of the internal investigation.

Desjardins said no one set out to do a bad job with this, but they need to figure out how to do better. She also expressed support for the appointment of the retired judges.

Trouble on Twitter

The Victoria chief initially apologized publicly for his behavior and an investigation by the Victoria Police Board reprimanded him, but concluded he should not be suspended or dismissed for his actions.

But the police union objected and said the rank and file members had lost confidence in Elsner and called for his immediate dismissal.

Concerns were also raised about the manner in which the internal investigation was handled, prompting a complaint and then the review by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.

Elsner has admitted he exchanged the inappropriate messages and has since apologized, saying he is "deeply humiliated" after the board placed a formal reprimand on his record, the first in his 33-year career.

The exchange started in late spring, he said, and he stopped it before "it became more ridiculous than it was."

Elsner was sworn in as chief two years ago and, since assuming command of the force, has had an active presence on social media.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated the Victoria Police Department conducted the internal investigation. In fact, it was the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board.
    Dec 18, 2015 6:56 PM PT