City will likely commission national search to replace 24-year OCPD veteran
Police Chief Bernadette DiPino(Oct. 19, 2012) The recent clustering of turnover at the city’s top levels continued this week with the announcement that current Ocean City Police Department Chief Bernadette DiPino will be taking the top police position with the Sarasota Police Department in Florida.
DiPino’s selection comes only a month after the city of Sarasota announced that it had narrowed its candidate pool for the position to five finalists, one of whom was DiPino.
“Chief DiPino will bring the experience, passion and leadership to lead the SPD in partnering with every citizen in Sarasota to keep this community the safe and special place that it is,” Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin stated in a press release.
“As a state and national leader in her field, Chief DiPino epitomizes the concept, and walks the walk, that police officers are a part of, not apart from, the community.”
DiPino’s first day on the job in Sarasota will be Jan. 1, 2013. Current SPD Chief Mikel Holloway was scheduled to retire Dec. 1 of this year after 30 years of service, but has agreed to delay his departure for a month.
Although DiPino’s last day for Ocean City has not been announced, Ocean City Communications Manager Jessica Waters said City Manager David Recor is likely to make a recommendation soon to the mayor and City Council for the appointment of an interim chief while DiPino’s permanent replacement is sought.
“More than likely, we’ll have a national search and we’ll promote someone internally in the meantime. But that is ultimately up to the mayor and council,” Waters said.
At Tuesday night’s AARP candidates’ forum, the news from that afternoon out of Sarasota sparked one audience member to ask the political contenders what they would look for in a new chief. The consensus was that the new chief should be selected through a nationallevel professional search.
Earlier this year, Ocean City commissioned corporate recruiter Springsted Inc. to hire Recor from his previous post as the city manager of Fort Pierce, Fla. Other high-level changes in the past months have included the appointment of former Communications Manager Donna Abbott as tourism director, following the departure of former tourism head Deb Turk, as well as the hiring of Convention Center Director Larry Noccolino after the departure of Rick Hamilton.
Although the SPD has a larger full- time force and operating budget than its Ocean City counterpart, the fact that the OCPD more than doubles in size during the summer makes the scale of operations similar. The SPD, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, has about 175 officers and a budget of $27 million.
The OCPD has 105 full-time officers, but hires 110 seasonal officers each summer, and has a budget of around $19.5 million. DiPino’s salary with the OCPD is $144,676.89, versus Holloway’s current salary of $132,000.
“Like Ocean City, Sarasota is also a unique resort area,” DiPino said last month. “There are a lot of similarities, and there are differences also. They have a bigger year-round police force, but if you look at how many officers we add in the summer, the scale is similar.”
DiPino was already scheduled to retire next fall. Under the OCPD’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), officers who have reached the retirement threshold of 25 years of service are given incentives to commit to retiring on a certain date within three years. DiPino had been set to retire from the OCPD in October of 2013.
“I am leaving the department with mixed emotions,” DiPino said in a press release. “I feel excitement about a new opportunity and challenge in beautiful Sarasota, Fla., but heartfelt sadness because I will miss the department, the officers, and the citizens with whom I’ve developed so many lasting friendships.”
“I’d like to thank all the citizens, businesses, and law enforcement partners who have supported me and the OCPD over the years. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to serve this community.”
A fourth-generation law enforcement officer, DiPino began her career with the Baltimore County Police Department in 1985. She moved to the OCPD in 1988,and advanced through the ranks to private first class in 1993, sergeant in 1995, lieutenant in 1998, and then to major and shortly thereafter chief of police in 2003.
Her meteoric rise through the ranks, however, was said to have created some internal friction in the OCPD. In her job application, which the City of Sarasota has made public, DiPino answered the question, “What was the most difficult change initiative you have managed?’” by responding that it was the appointment of her own command staff.
“After over nine years as chief, I finally have a command staff I personally tested and selected,” DiPino wrote. “When I first made chief I asked my supervisors, the police commission at the time, to allow me to revamp my command staff. I had four captains then. Three of the captains were not supportive of my appointment. Two of the three had competed against me for the chief’s job. The third captain made it clear that he was not in support of my appointment.
“Over the years, through management strategies and retirement, I was eventually able to hold processes to select my own staff. The one thing I would have done differently was to hold my ground and ask to change the commanders as a condition of my appointment.”
Much of Sarasota’s interest in DiPino seems to have been centered on community relations. DiPino referred to that when she recounted her experience in dealing with Ocean City’s bar and nightclub culture. She said as chief she had abolished “a ‘hit’ list of establishments in our community with a zerotolerance mark behind their name.”
“I just knew the practice of maintaining a problem property list was not solving crime issues,” DiPino wrote. “Yes, we saw an increase in arrests, but I saw the businesses were not calling the police when they had problems. They didn’t want to end up on the problem property list. So when they saw a problem or potential problem they ignored it. The business owners pushed the patrons out the door and the problem became someone else’s responsibility.”
After a business failed to call police when a woman was sexually assaulted 50 feet away from the property, for fear of being blacklisted, DiPino said she made changes.
“I got rid of the list. That didn’t mean we didn’t address the properties. Instead, we developed relationships with the businesses,” she wrote.