Elsner, a native of British Columbia, told reporters Thursday he didn't own a pair of winter boots until he came to Ontario to work with the Thunder Bay police.
“I still have them,” he said, of the first pair he bought. “I'm going to leave them in the waiting room at the airport.”
Elsner confirmed Thursday what has been speculated for weeks: he's the new chief constable of the Victoria Police Department, leaving Sudbury after seven years on the job – the last four as chief.
He made it official at a news conference at police headquarter on Brady Street. As tearful co-workers looked on, an emotional Elsner said he had no intentions of leaving Sudbury, but was approached about the Victoria job while he was there in June visiting his mother. He resisted until August, when he agreed to meet with officials in that city and the process formally began.
Ward 5 Coun. Ron Dupuis, who chairs Greater Sudbury's Police Services Board, said Elsner changed policing in Sudbury on a fundamental level by having officers focus on working in the community before crimes are committed. He set the example for his officers, Dupuis said, by regularly taking walks throughout city neighbourhoods, casually interacting with residents.
“He has brought the human aspect of policing to Greater Sudbury,” Dupuis said. “It is with deep regrets that we say goodbye to Frank. Frank certainly has left his mark in the City of Greater Sudbury.
“It's a sad day, but it's also a happy day, because Frank is going back home. And he's going to be able to spend time with his elderly mom.”
Elsner said the community policing model is one he'll bring with him to Victoria. It had a dramatic effect on areas like Louis Street in Sudbury, which has seen a dramatic drop in crime rates, reflecting a city-wide trend. A mental-health initiative he led diverted police away from long waits in hospital emergency departments to outpatient clinics where people could be assessed far more quickly.
Changing the policing culture wasn't easy, Elsner said, and it started with a change in the way he viewed his job.
“In policing, I've arrested the grandpa, the dad, and the two sons -- that's three generations,” he said. “And you kind of go, 'oh my God, are we making a difference here?'
“For me, that was the seminal point when I realized we had to do something different. That we had to do something to make a difference in these people's lives.”
The approach hasn't only paid off in crime statistics, but in more direct ways, such as the seven women they helped get out of prostitution in the last year.
“Those are seven lives that are no longer part of the drug trade, no longer part of criminal activity,” he said. “You can't convince me that children growing up in that aren't going to see that path. But we've broken that chain. They have a different opportunity now.”
He starts work in Victoria on Dec. 16, which means he'll leave town likely on Friday, Dec. 13. Dupuis said the search for a replacement will take as much as six months, although an interim chief should be in place in a matter of weeks.
“We want to be sure we get the right person,” Dupuis said.
Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk was absent at Thursday's announcement. Spokesperson Mike Whitehouse said Matichuk wanted to attend, but was at a luncheon for members of the Nevada-Canada Business Council, an event arranged months ago.
But in an emailed statement, Matichuk praised Elsner's contributions to policing in Sudbury.
“Chief Elsner is a true leader and he has been an asset to our city -- he will be missed,” Matichuk said in the statement. “On behalf of city council, I thank him for his service, and I wish him all the best in Victoria.”
For his part, Elsner thanked Sudburians for being so welcoming to him, his wife and his daughters during their time here.
“I've never been in a community that has treated me better,” Elsner said. “It's been the best time of our lives.”