San Bernardino Police Chief Robert Handy will take over for the outgoing Chief Ken Small at the Huntington Beach Police Department. (City of Huntington Beach / October 29, 2013)

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A college career test helped set newly named Huntington Beach Police Chief Robert Handy on what would ultimately be his correct path.

"I was a biology major originally in college," said Handy, 45, who ended up graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in public administration. "I wasn't one of those guys that were always destined to be a policeman."

But the Phoenix native soon found himself attracted to the adrenaline-pumping nature of police work.

"It's such a diverse career where you can do so many different things," Handy said. "It's not like any other career I could have imagined. You can be out chasing somebody and be in a life-threatening situation one minute and the next day be helping a family or a child."

He said he was thrilled and honored to get the news that he had been chosen to replace Police Chief Ken Small, who announced his retirement in May.

"Every kid growing up in Phoenix, and definitely every cop working a beat in the middle of the summer in Phoenix, wishes they lived and worked in a beach community," Handy said.

Handy spent the majority of his career with the Phoenix Police Department, serving 21 years and moving up the ranks from officer to commander. He became San Bernardino police chief in 2011, when the city was going through financial hardships.

"Having to cut the department and laying people off just right after I got here was a very difficult time for the employees and for me," Handy said. "We went through a lot of rough financial times, but I think things have finally stabilized a little bit."

Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman said she and her colleagues have no doubt that they chose the right person for the job.

"He's had experience with large events when he was in Phoenix, decades of experience," she said. "I'm confident that after all that he's done in Phoenix and in San Bernardino, he'll do an excellent job in Huntington Beach."

City Manager Fred Wilson also came from San Bernardino, where he had worked for 12 years.

"You are inheriting a great chief law enforcement officer," San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris said. "You're very lucky. You got our city manager, and now you've got our police chief."

Morris said Handy was a "stellar" police chief.

But Morris declined to comment on a statement Handy gave to the San Bernardino Sun about the city's "toxic politics" influencing his decision to leave.

In his new position, Handy will work with a slightly smaller department. Huntington Beach has 193 officers compared with San Bernardino's 248. But Surf City is looking to expand to 212 by summer.

Handy said he's looking forward to helping the HBPD return to pre-recession staffing levels.

"I don't think it's good practice to just put people back in the same positions and do the same functions that were cut previously," he said. "As we reinvest money in Huntington Beach, and resources back into the department, we've got to find the most efficient and effective ways to do that."

Handy plans to get to know members of the community in order to make the best assessment about how to deploy resources.

"I've got to understand the needs of the residents, of the business people, the men and women in the department, and I've got to understand the tourism aspect of Huntington Beach," he said. "I've got a lot of learning to do."