Sarasota, Florida - She was sworn in as the first female police chief of Sarasota in more than a century. Bernadette DiPino is 48-years-old and the former police chief of Ocean City, Maryland. She is a single mother to a daughter who's a cop in Baltimore. Law enforcement runs in the family. The Chief's grandfather and father were also cops. "I grew up listening to their stories. I always knew what I wanted to do."
This new chief is considered an outsider brought in to reinvent the public image of the Sarasota Police Department, which has faced a media firestorm when it comes to the homeless. One incident, in particular, has played out over and over in video now seen all over the nation - a homeless man beaten by Sarasota police officers at a bus station.
Chief DiPino told 10 News, "I tell my staff to bring me bad news right away because I would rather deal with that, and not to be upset about bringing problems to the forefront because I look at problems as a way to get better. So, that's what I look at as the problems with the homeless in the area."
10 News sat down with the chief after her swearing in and talked openly about the homeless problem in the city. We showed the chief video she has certainly seen before, the beating of that homeless man at a bus depot, a case still under investigation. Chief DiPino says this is not what the department is all about.
She said, "Is there a better way we could have handled this. Our police officers do not want to get hurt or see people get hurt. I look at this video and my first initial reaction is, is there something we could have done training wise to better handle the situation."
So, how do you change an image so ingrained in the minds of the public?
It is a difficult task, the chief admits and will not be accomplished quickly. She is hoping that the city, county and other agencies will help get the homeless the assistance they need, which in turn will help the problem as a while.
The chief tells us it's her top priority.
"Unfortunately, there's some incidents that have drawn big attention and we're going to do everything we can to overcome that reputation because that's just not who we are," she said.
As far as being the first female chief, DiPino is both humbled and honored. She says she will change this department with more intense police training and a focus on community policing.
"I just ask for patience. Give us a chance. I'll do everything I can to earn your trust, so will the police officers," she remarked with a smile.
She's also hoping for more female officers. Right now, there are 25 on the force out of roughly 170. DiPino is asking any females out there to apply. "We'd love to have you! Help make us better!"