Q&A: OC Police Chief DiPino

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City Police Chief Bernadette DiPino will be feted with a going away celebration next week as the Ocean City chapter of her career closes at the end of the year and a new chapter opens in Sarasota, Fla.

Earlier this fall, DiPino announced she was retiring after a 24-year career with the OCPD including the last nine as Chief of Police. In October, it was announced she had been hired as Chief of Police for Sarasota, Fla. after being named as one of the five finalists for the position following a national search.

DiPino is set to hit the ground running in Sarasota on Jan. 2, but before that date arrives, there is still a little unfinished business to take care of in Ocean City, including a farewell celebration and going away party set for next Wednesday, Dec. 19 at the St. Andrew’s Catholic Church on 144th Street. The chief and the OCPD is inviting all in the community to attend and in lieu of gifts, an American Red Cross representative will be on hand to accept donations.

In an interview with The Dispatch this week, DiPino reflected on her nine-year career as police chief in Ocean City and discussed the challenges she’s preparing to take on in her new position in Sarasota. The following are some of the excerpts from the interview.

Q. After 24 years with the OCPD including the last nine as Chief of Police, what are you most proud of as your tenure here nears an end?

A. When I look back at my “history,” I see our agency has been successful in implementing many of the concepts I envisioned in my long-term strategic plan right after I was appointed chief.

We plan ahead, standardize our operations and use technology to make us more efficient and effective crime fighters. But, as I reflect on what means the most to my legacy, I am most proud of two things.

One is the relationships and partnerships developed with the Ocean City community. The support I have received from the people and businesses in our community has been invaluable to me. If I get half the support in Sarasota I have gotten from the Ocean City residents and visitors, I will be successful.

The other is the opportunity to hire and promote good people. While I am sad to be leaving the Ocean City Police Department, I know there is a command staff in place and supervisors who are more than capable of keeping our department professional and top notch. I have been fortunate to promote and appoint the best individuals to lead our department.

Q. What are some of the criminal cases or events that stand out most during your nine-year career as chief?

A. Several cases stand out in my mind. To name just a few … the America’s Most Wanted find; the Sifrit case; the missing persons’ cases; the young boy, Sam Wilkinson, who drowned at Northside Park; the storms; the Freeman case; Tipsy Taxi; and the Boardwalk stores who sold illegal, controversial items every summer.

Q. You’ve shepherded the department through a dynamic time with many changes in technological advances. How has the OCPD adjusted and adapted to the changes under your watch?

A. The OCPD has adjusted and I am happy with how the officers embrace professional, community policing and all the initiatives our agency has implemented over the years. There were some challenges at the beginning of my tenure but I now have a command staff I personally appointed and I think it makes a big difference. And now I am leaving.

Q. Throughout your tenure as chief, there seems to have been a vast improvement in the department’s relationships with the community including numerous neighborhood watch programs. Is that something you strived for as chief?

A. Yes. I am a community policing officer and chief. It is a philosophy I believe in and I have seen the successes over and over from this concept. I plan to use this same philosophy in Sarasota. The partnerships are invaluable. Crime fighting is not just a police officer’s responsibility. We need citizens, businesses and the government to work together as a team in order to fight crime.

Q. You’re leaving Ocean City at a time with numerous weighty public safety issues on the table. What’s your opinion of some of the changes proposed for the study area of Coastal Highway in terms of pedestrian safety?

A. I support the changes. I have often suggested some out-of-the-box ideas like reducing the highway down to two lanes, designating a bigger pedestrian, bike-walk way and designating one lane for public transportation. Change the name to a calmer one like boulevard or way and reduce the speed limit. Add brighter lights to see the highway better. Decorative planters or fencing could line the walking riding path to prevent people from crossing other than at designated cross walks. This takes lots of money and time to develop, so I am encouraged by the upcoming changes.

Q. This might be a loaded question, but how would you handicap the town’s effort to replace you? Do you think the best candidate might emerge from the national search, or is the best candidate from within your own department?

A. This is a loaded question. The decision rests with the elected officials and city manager since they are the ones who know what they are looking for in a chief.

I believe we have qualified internal candidates. I also know of many external candidates with the credentials needed. Ocean City is a unique area and department. Internal candidates will have an advantage since they know the history and the dynamic of the department. I believe the agency is heading in a good direction, so no matter whether an internal or external candidate is chosen, I know the men and women of the OCPD will continue to operate a professional, progressive police agency.

Q. The department’s charitable efforts under your watch are well documented and the Christmas food and toy drives are now well underway. Is that something you take a lot of pride in?

A. Yes. Giving back to the community is important to me. That is one of the reasons I became a police officer. It is one of a few occupations where you can make a positive difference in someone’s life every day. I believe as a leader we have an obligation and responsibility to use our positions to encourage good. I tried to lead by example and use my position to help others. I must admit I got more personal satisfaction out of it than I believe I put into it. I can’t begin to describe the feeling of purpose and thanks I’ve gotten when someone smiles in gratitude and I see they are helped. It gives my life true meaning. I will continue that for the rest of my life no matter where I am or what position I hold.  

Q. There’s a farewell reception in your honor scheduled for Dec. 19. Will that be an emotional day for you?

A. Yes. It will be a mixture of sadness for saying goodbye to the people I care for and admire as well as a celebration of a career in law enforcement which has brought me great satisfaction, frustrations, pride, sorrow, excitement, boredom, fear, many great stories, lessons, fun, stress, but most of all happiness at doing a job I love and actually being paid to do it.

Q. You’re taking over as chief in Sarasota, a larger town with its own challenges. How do you prepare for that and are you ready to hit the ground running?

A. I am excited about the new challenges and new department. Sarasota is a beautiful community with an outstanding police department. I can’t wait to meet all of the employees and get started.  I have learned a lot as chief in Ocean City. My plan is to take what I’ve learned and apply it to the Sarasota Police Department. I will implement a lot of the same strategies which has made Ocean City a fun and safe place to live, work, and visit.