Victoria Police Chief Const. Del Manak says there is “work to do” at the Victoria Police Department following an external investigation and report of previous police chief Frank Elsner. The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner of B.C. (OPCC) submitted a scathing review of how complaints against Elsner for sexual harassment were handled.
“At the heart of the matter is a simple fact: the behaviour described in the report is simply unacceptable in the work place,” Manak said. “There is always room for improvement, especially for at topic that is this important. For that reason the VicPD senior management team will be working shoulder to shoulder with our union executive to identify and address any systemic issues that affect our workplace at the Victoria Police Department.”
OPCC Comissioner Stan Lowe said Elsner was caught in a “web of untruths” after sending inappropriate Twitter messages to the wife of one of the officers in his department. He was also accused of inappropriate touching and comments towards female police officers, lying to investigators and of encouraging witnesses to make false statements.
Initially Elsner was held for review by a Police Board chaired by Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins. He apologized for his behaviour, but was able to keep his position as chief while disciplinary measures were imposed.
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 their internal investigation.
Eventually a member of the Victoria police union brought the allegations to the attention of the OPCC.
Elsner was put on administrative leave since December 2015, and then suspended with pay since April 2016, receiving his full salary of over $200,000 per year while his legal costs were covered, before he resigned in May 2017.
Elsner’s actions resulted in two separate investigations which found him guilty of committing eight acts of misconduct under the Police Act.
While Lowe found that the actions taken against the former police chief were reasonable and appropriate, he questioned the discipline process, saying that in these cases local mayors should not be involved.
“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,” Lowe said in a statement, adding that there is an inherent conflict of interest to have municipal involvement, especially in regards to proceedings that could affect they municipality’s budget.
After reviewing the case, Lowe recommended the government amend the Police Act so that when a misconduct matter with high ranking officers occurs, the authority should be a retired judge, not a mayor.
For former B.C. Solicitor General, Kash Heed, this reaction is not good enough.
“I don’t think you have to change the Police Act, but should deal with the two individuals that took the actions that they did,” Heed said, referring to Helps and Desjardins. “I think Stan Lowe was very kind in with his words. He talked about, ‘a lack of communication;’ In my opinion they were deceiving him and misleading the public.”
Heed also noted that the cost of the investigation, which has been reported as around $600,000 is grossly under-calculated, noting that with the investigation, legal fees and Elsner’s salary it’s likely closer to $1 million.
When questioned on the budget, Manak deferred to an upcoming release from the Police Board scheduled for next week.
“I want to focus on our people, and ensure again that I am entrusted with leading this organization,” Manak said. “I can’t do that if I don’t have a work place that’s free of bullying and harassment and intimidation. The Benefit that I’ve got is I’ve been in this organization for 25 years … I know the culture that exists here and I’m committed to improving it.”
Manak noted that so far the VicPD has established a diversity and inclusion committee, and enabled mandatory workplace bullying and harassment training.