Chief Rob Handy
Huntington Beach Police Chief Rob Handy. Photo: City of Huntington Beach

An investigation into community complaints of Huntington Beach police officers setting off illegal fireworks over a neighborhood east of Central Park early on July 5 appears to be at the center of a dispute between the city’s police chief and the police officers union.

In recent months, tensions have increased between Chief Robert Handy and the Huntington Beach Police Officers Association, culminating in the union’s Aug. 15 announcement of a 92 percent vote of no-confidence in Handy, the Orange County Register reported. Police are negotiating a new contract.

At the time of the vote, Handy attributed some of the friction to “how I’ve dealt with misconduct,” according to the newspaper.

The city, in an Aug. 25 letter in support of Handy, said police were conducting “an internal affairs investigation of a citizen’s complaint of officer misconduct that occurred outside a union facility.” The letter did not elaborate on the alleged misconduct, the Register reported.

On Tuesday, Councilman Erik Peterson addressed anonymous reports about the investigation, saying, according to the Register, that it’s about community-driven complaints of officers lighting off illegal fireworks in front of their club. Peterson said several citizen complaints had been lodged involving multiple officers.

Handy declined Wednesday to comment, saying any information about police misconduct investigations is confidential.

Residents said they were awakened between 2 and 3 a.m. July 5 by large fireworks explosions over their homes. Police logs requested by the Register show a police call for service at Gothard Street and Prodan Drive, adjacent to the police officers’ facility and the neighborhood.

The city’ letter supporting Handy said union leadership “unprofessionally and profanely” demanded the chief drop the investigation into the misconduct complaint. But in an earlier statement about investigations of its officers, the union wrote: “There is no discord over being held to account for our actions including to be disciplined, terminated, or prosecuted.”

Handy and the union leadership have been at odds for much of his 3 1/2- year tenure as police chief since he arrived from San Bernardino. After the no confidence vote, the union asked that Handy step down or be removed.

The city and union have been negotiating since to renew the contract that ends Sept. 30. When the last contract was approved in June of 2016, officers had gone 8 1/2 months without a contract.

—City News Service

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