In the midst of mounting tension between Huntington Beach’s police chief and police unions, city officials announced Thursday that they have hired an independent consultant firm to study operations at the Police Department.
Costa Mesa-based Management Partners started in November, gathering employee perspectives on the department’s strengths and limitations. The firm will issue recommendations and is expected to finish in late January or early February.
City Manager Fred Wilson approved the company’s $52,900 contract last month.
Management Partners is expected to conduct interviews with department staff, meet with union leaders, circulate a confidential online employee survey and hold focus groups, according to the contract.
City spokeswoman Julie Toledo said the assessment was prompted by the Huntington Beach Police Officers Assn.’s (HBPOA) no-confidence vote against Police Chief Robert Handy in August.
This is the first time in recent history that the city has commissioned a review of the Police Department, she added.
“The city wanted an independent and objective review of the issues in the Police Department,” Toledo wrote in an email. “Both the city and the police officers association agreed to using Management Partners as the firm best qualified to conduct this review.”
The union, which represents rank-and-file officers, has railed against Handy for his efforts to equip personnel with body cameras, which they contend are costly, place an unnecessary burden on limited police resources and extend the time needed to complete reports.
The officers also have cited low morale, out-of-date technology and recruitment problems.
On Wednesday, the Huntington Beach Police Management Assn., which represents captains and lieutenants, joined with the HBPOA in calling for Handy’s ouster.
The management association called the relationship between Handy and most department employees “beyond repair.”
HBPOA President Dave Humphreys on Thursday echoed the call for Handy to step down.
“We are not talking about a few disgruntled voices with Chief Handy,” he said in a statement. “We’re talking an entire symphony of opposition from the top down to the way he has lowered the once high standards of the Huntington Beach Police Department. If he can’t find it within him to do the right thing and resign, it’s time the City Council starts nudging him toward the door.”
Handy did not respond to a phone call seeking comment Thursday.
“I’m committed to this community and I’m committed to the men and women of this Police Department,” Handy said in August after the officers’ no-confidence vote. “There was a perfect storm of issues that led to this, but we’re going to get through it and learn from it.”
Mayor Mike Posey, a majority of the City Council and Wilson have expressed their continued support of Handy. In a joint statement Wednesday, they said his leadership “should be celebrated.” They pointed to what they called positive changes, such as the body cameras, community-oriented policing and new hires.
“He has demonstrated outstanding leadership in accountability, transparency and community engagement during a transformational time in policing and in our department,” they wrote.
The unions’ stated lack of faith in Handy comes as both negotiate new labor contracts.
The officers’ contract expired in September; the management association’s expires Dec. 31.