Behind-the-scenes tension between the Huntington Beach police union and the city’s police chief has reached new heights as union members announced a vote of “no confidence” in Chief Robert Handy.
The City Council was informed Tuesday that the officers voted 207-11 against the chief, with four voters undecided and two ballots unreturned.
Handy, who has led the department since 2013, is widely supported by the council, despite simmering tensions with rank-and-file officers over his efforts to modernize the department with equipment like body cameras, according to city officials.
Handy said Wednesday that while he is disappointed about the vote, he’s committed to working with his staff to address the union members’ concerns.
“I’m committed to this community and I’m committed to the men and women of this Police Department,” he said in an interview. “There was a perfect storm of issues that led to this, but we’re going to get through it and learn from it.”
Councilman Erik Peterson said Wednesday that the union hasn’t provided the council with a specific issue that motivated the vote against Handy.
Dave Humphreys, board president of the Huntington Beach Police Officers’ Assn., said in a statement Wednesday that the union has taken issue with Handy’s decision to remove rifle suppressors from department weapons and what Humphreys called his failure to support and bond with his management team and officers, among other problems.
“For the first time in the history of the Huntington Beach Police Department, we have never felt so compelled to go down this path and call for a chief to resign, step down or be removed from office,” Humphreys wrote. “The men and women of this department need to be supported, valued and treated fairly. We as employees have to follow procedures, and starting today will resist being torn apart by a chief who is more interested in his image and perception of political correctness.”
Handy said the rifle suppressors, which act as a silencer, were removed at the advice of the department’s SWAT team and for officer safety during a gunfight.
Humphreys also alleged that Handy removed or forced experienced managers to retire early or leave the department after he learned they disagreed with his leadership.
Handy called the allegation “patently false,” noting that he’s had to handle several officer misconduct issues since he was hired.
“Those are difficult decisions,” Handy said. “My job as the chief is to uphold the integrity of the Police Department.”
City Attorney Michael Gates said the union vote is largely symbolic. Since the City Council has the ultimate say over whether to hire or fire a chief, the vote has “no weight legally or procedurally moving forward,” Gates said.
Peterson, Mayor Barbara Delgleize and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Posey emphasized their support for Handy in an Aug. 3 letter to the Police Department.
During Handy’s tenure with the department, he has implemented several initiatives that include equipping officers with body cameras and instituting a bilingual Citizens Academy that teaches residents about law enforcement and interacting with officers. Crime has declined in the city’s downtown area since Handy was hired, according to Peterson.
However, some members of the union, which represents rank-and-file officers, have expressed discontent with initiatives including the body cameras, which they say places an unnecessary burden on already limited police resources. Handy said he believes the contention over the body cameras jump-started the union’s campaign against him.
During a City Council meeting last year, several members of the association board said money allocated for body cameras could be better spent in other areas. Officers also complained that the cameras lengthened the time they spent completing reports.
“Our association is very, very concerned that this program is going to cripple our police services, which are already very limited,” Humphreys said at the time.
The union, which has been embroiled in lengthy contract negotiations with the city, also has expressed concern about staffing levels and pay.
In November, the union filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming that its ordinance seeking to bring more transparency to labor negotiations had stalled the process of bargaining for a new contract. The lawsuit is ongoing.
In their Aug. 3 letter, Peterson, Delgleize and Posey said Handy joined the department during a contentious time, in the wake of a riot that broke out downtown at the conclusion of the 2013 U.S. Open of Surfing.
“The disturbance during the U.S. Open left our residents, businesses and visitors reeling in anger and mistrust,” they wrote. “Chief Handy has been able to overcome this and build positive relationships in our community.
“He has been a tireless advocate for the department — pushing for more officers and better equipment while focusing on officer safety and well-being.”
Humphreys, however, said in his statement that “our community is dangerous. We have had acts of violence and shootings with officers hurt and/or almost killed.”
Huntington Beach had five officer-involved shootings in the first three months of this year — more than in any entire year this decade, according to department archives.