National Search Likely To Fill OC Chief Vacancy

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City Police Chief Bernadette DiPino was appointed to the same position in Sarasota, Fla. this week after 10 years at the helm in the resort, leaving local officials with another department head position to fill.

DiPino was appointed chief of police in Sarasota on Tuesday from a field of five candidates announced late this summer. She becomes the coastal Florida community’s first female police chief, just as she was Ocean City’s first female chief when she was appointed a decade ago. DiPino’s appointment did not come as a shock in the resort community as she had already intended to take advantage of the department’s retirement program next October.

DiPino began her career with the OCPD in 1988 after serving three years with the Baltimore County Police Department. She quickly worked her way through the department’s rank structure and was appointed acting chief in 2002 upon the retirement of former chief Dave Massey, now the chief of police in Ocean Pines. In 2003, DiPino was appointed the full-time police chief by the Mayor and Council in a 6-2 closed session vote.

DiPino said in a statement this week the Sarasota job represented a great opportunity to advance her career, but leaving the OCPD and the resort community was bittersweet.

“I am leaving the department with mixed emotions,” she said. “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.”

DiPino this week thanked her command staff, the rank-and-file officers and the Ocean City community for 10 years as chief and 24 years with the OCPD.

“I have been honored and privileged to work with so many dedicated and professional individuals in the supportive community of Ocean City,” she said. “The people I have worked with over the last 10 years as chief and the last 24 with the OCPD have allowed me to grow and gain valuable experience. I am most proud of the officers in this agency and the command staff which I’ve appointed over the years. They are more than capable of leading and managing this department without me.”

Just who leads and manages the department remains to be seen, although local officials this week said they would likely follow a similar pattern with recent department head hirings including the city manager position. Clearly, there are qualified officers in the department to fill the position and there is a long precedent of hiring from within, but the Mayor and Council will likely cast a wide net to find the best candidate. In an interview this week, Mayor Rick Meehan, who has a vote on the town’s police chief hiring, said he would support a national search.

“We will first take a recommendation from the city manager, but I think you will see us follow the same path as we did with the city manager with a national search,” he said. “It’s important to consider internal candidates, but also to see who else is out there. We will want to hire the best possible police chief for Ocean City and I think a national search is the proper thing to do in 2012.”

The issue was brought up during an Ocean City Council candidate forum on Tuesday and most agreed a national search is the right approach to fill the vacancy.

“There are headhunters that go out all across the United States and they ask the questions and how to screen, and we just did it with the city manager,” said Council President Jim Hall. “We don’t have the time or ability or qualifications. When they bring it down to a couple of applicants, we are obviously going to make the decision.”

Council candidate Dennis Dare was city manager when DiPino was appointed in 2003. Dare said this week he read through 174 applications before winnowing a list of 11 candidates to present to the Mayor and Council. Dare said he had assistance from a handful of police chiefs from around Maryland to review the applications.

“I am going to suggest that we consider doing it the way we did 10 or 12 years ago when Bernadette was appointed chief,” he said. “A national search, whether you hire somebody to do it or get some chiefs for free to help with it, I think I would go that way, but we have a lot to offer somebody.”

Councilman Doug Cymek said a national search was the right approach and urged qualified existing OCPD officers to get their names in the mix.

“I agree with Dennis that it should be a combination of a professional firm to recruit, then probably get a three- to four-person panel in law enforcement to review them and then bring it before the Mayor and Council as well and we will come up with the best applicant,” he said. “I encourage all members of the OCPD who feel they are qualified to please step forward, put your application in and let us hear from you as well.”

Former Councilman and current candidate Joe Mitrecic agreed DiPino’s possible replacement could already be on the OCPD payroll, but encouraged a national search to see who might be available.

“We should have an unbiased national search for the police chief,” said Mitrecic. “I think that any local police officer that feels he or she can fill those shoes should be included in that search, but we should do a national search and get the best police chief out there.”

Meanwhile, Sarasota officials this week said they were excited with DiPino’s appointment.

“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,” said Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin this week. “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 a part from, the community.”

For her part, DiPino said she ready to hit the ground running in Sarasota. She will officially start on Jan. 1.

“I’m really looking forward to engaging residents and becoming part of the community,” she said. “I have an open-door policy and I want to hear from everyone about police issues, not just the bad, but what’s good as well. Sarasota in the kind of community where I can have a positive impact and I can’t wait to get started.”