Huntington Beach Appoints New Interim Police Chief

November 12, 2020 Updated: November 12, 2020

The City of Huntington Beach, California, has named a new interim police chief during a special closed council meeting, but two city officials say the appointment was the wrong choice.

The Huntington Beach City Council approved Julian Harvey for the job by a 5-to-2 vote on Nov. 5, with Councilman Erik Peterson and Mayor Lyn Semeta weighing in against the appointment.

Harvey, 53, is a veteran law enforcement officer with more than 28 years of experience. He was previously deputy chief of police for the City of Anaheim, where he oversaw 400 officers who served 360,000 Anaheim residents. Harvey also served as Anaheim’s interim chief of police from October 2017 to August 2018, before retiring in November 2019.

Following Huntington Beach Police Chief Robert Handy’s retirement, Kelly Rodriguez was set to become interim chief, but retired unexpectedly due to political divisiveness within the department.

Peterson said Rodriguez retired immediately following Handy’s retirement.

“Basically, she took retirement 48 hours after he left,” Peterson told The Epoch Times.

Rodriguez, who was set to officially step down Nov. 12, stayed active until an interim police chief could be appointed.

“She would have actually been the best choice,” Peterson said. “There was pressure from the unions, from councilmembers to have her retire. I think it was bad for the city that she did, but that was her choice to retire. I don’t think she wanted to be in the middle of a big political battle.”

Peterson thought Rodriguez was a good fit for the role because of her insight into the department.

“She has all the institutional knowledge we need right now for the department,” he said.

When the council begins looking for a permanent chief, Peterson said, the decision will be largely swayed by external forces.

“Our police union is running the council,” Peterson said. “And so it’s gonna be whatever they decide they want. Because really, the council is not thinking for themselves on this.”

Others took a more positive approach to the appointment.

City Councilman Mike Posey—among the five council members that voted in favor of Harvey—said he was a good fit for the position due to his extensive experience as a police department executive.

“He’s sort of a take-charge guy. And that’s what we need,” Posey told The Epoch Times. “I was impressed with his executive level skill set.

“While he was on the Anaheim Police Force, his rapid and progressive ascension through the ranks with promotions and taking on new assignments, and continually stretching himself—that quality led me to believe that he was the executive that we need as the chief of police.”

Equally important, said Posey, was the new interim chief’s approach to handling homelessness in Anaheim. Huntington Beach recently opened a new homeless shelter and navigation center to address the problem.

“We’re looking for that executive leadership to be able to utilize that shelter to address our homelessness issue, with respect particularly to camping on public property and curfew violations on public property,” Posey said.

“And [Harvey has a] willingness to give those homeless persons the option of utilizing the services of the navigation center, or finding an alternate city to set up camping.”

Harvey will remain interim chief while the city council conducts a nationwide search for a permanent chief, a process that could take months.

For now, Posey said, they need a temporary chief who “can be effective in the short term, and that candidate is Julian Harvey.”

The City Council went through many candidates for the position to find an interim chief immediately.

Peterson said he and Mayor Lyn Semeta, as well as the Police Management Association, agreed on voting against Harvey and appointing someone else who they thought was a better candidate. The other candidate was not named.

“The other candidate knew most of our officers, had interacted with most of our officers, is from a municipality that works with our city closely,” Peterson said.

“His institutional knowledge of our department, I think, would have been beneficial, and of our city—he knew our city very, very well.”

Mayor Lyn Semeta told The Epoch Times she also opposed the appointment of Harvey as interim chief, saying that the election season “caused some divisiveness within the police department.”

“For me, a high priority in selecting an interim chief was finding the person who could bring unity with the ranks in the most expedient manner,” Semeta said via text message.

“My vote merely reflected my belief that due to his unique experience and relationships, another candidate was the best choice to play that role.”

Meantime, Harvey said he was humbled to take on the new role.

“Huntington Beach is a dynamic community with an iconic history, and its Police Department is second to none,” Harvey said in a press release.

“I am beyond excited to have this opportunity to serve the community and the department during this phase of the city’s history.”

City Manager Oliver Chi agreed he’s the right man for the job.

“Through the assessment process, Julian demonstrated that he is a dynamic law enforcement professional who places an outsized emphasis on people,” said Chi in the press release.

“He shares our strong commitment to public safety in Huntington Beach, and we are confident that Julian will help our police department stabilize as we work through this transitional period.”