Bernadette DiPino fired six rounds. Six direct hits in the target’s heart — with four of the bullets hitting in the exact same place.
The new Sarasota police chief’s meticulous aim wasn’t a surprise to training officer Jeff Dunn, who was with DiPino Tuesday afternoon at the shooting range. DiPino was getting accustomed to the police department’s standard issue .40 caliber Glock, which is slightly different than the type of handgun the Ocean City, Md., department used.
“She’s a good shot,” Dunn said.
Besides being a sure shot, DiPino has earned 18 commendations in Ocean City, where she worked for 25 years, including one for disarming a suicidal person and another for her work with the narcotics unit.
But it’s the small details that really show what kind of police chief she will be in Sarasota.
Everything she needs is in her briefcase.
“It’s more of a jump-out bag,” DiPino said. The bag is more professional looking than the duffle bag she carried during her days as a patrol and SWAT officer.
It contains the necessary basics: hand sanitizer, her work and personal cell phones, iPad (which DiPino will start using to tweet Sarasota police updates and safety tips) and ChapStick. There is also a Rosary. When DiPino, a devout Catholic, has a few minutes of quiet time before or after work, she prays.
And the most necessary of the contents are the protein bars — something chocolate or peanut butter. DiPino is particular to Kashi or Cliff bars.
“It’s a heavy bag,” DiPino says.
The protein bars have become her lunch on a few occasions so far on the beat in Sarasota. She has also had to grab a peanut-butter protein bar before she headed out to an evening neighborhood meeting. If there is one word to describe DiPino’s first few days, it is “busy.”
One of the first Sarasota police chiefs in recent history to live in the city limits, DiPino is renting a house about halfway between the police department and Lido Beach.
“I can get to work in two minutes and to the beach in two minutes,” said DiPino, who loves the beach, but hasn’t had time to visit Sarasota’s shore yet.
It’s a good thing she is close to the police headquarters. DiPino tells her commanders to call her after hours when a big crime occurs or an officer is involved in a shooting — no matter what time of the night. DiPino said she wants to be on the scene so that she can available to the media and support her officers.
That happened at 2 a.m. Jan. 2, when officers fired at a suspect who drove a stolen car into three marked police vehicles. After working two, long days, DiPino drove back to the station with Sea-Sea, her 2-year-old toy poodle. “I wanted to be out there,” she said.
New Year’s Eve
On her first day on the job, New Year’s Eve, DiPino was patrolling the downtown area with two other officers when a stabbing took place in the 1500 block of State Street.
“A number of citizens told us there was a fight and stabbing, and that someone was hurt,” DiPino said.
The suspect was arrested immediately, and a police captain rendered aid to the victim, a tow-truck driver, before he was transported to Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
DiPino helped keep people away from the scene so evidence could be gathered, and a detective arrived within one minute, DiPino said. As the chief stood guard over the fishing knife used in the stabbing, she saw the pineapple drop.
“Trouble comes to me,” DiPino said. “It’s a DiPino trait. Same with my father and my grandfather.” DiPino tries to be as ready for it as she can.
DiPino’s parents, Charles DiPino, a retired major from the Baltimore Police Department, and Mildred, helped her move into her new Sarasota home.
Although her sister became a nurse and her brother went into the business world, Bernadette wanted to follow in the legacy of her father and grandfather, James DiPino, a retired police captain. But when she first told her dad she wanted to be a police officer, he said, “No, you’re not becoming a police officer. I want you to be a judge or a lawyer.”
She persisted. When DiPino said she was going to the police academy, her father said she would never make it through.
The young DiPino said, “What do you mean? I’m tough.”
Her father joked that after he broke both her legs, the police academy wouldn’t let her in.
“I understand now why he didn’t want me to,” DiPino said. “He didn’t want me to go through and see everything police officers see.”
After she became an officer, her father became supportive. Both DiPino’s grandfather and her father saw her become a police officer in Ocean City. DiPino’s daughter, Tabitha Hays, is currently a police officer in Maryland.
“I couldn’t think of being in an office 9-to-5 without being able to be outside and with people,” DiPino said. “Being a chief, it does feel like you’re in the office a lot, but everyday is different.”
After the shooting range, DiPino planned to stop home to let out Sea-Sea. It was already turning out to be another long day, and she still had to go to a 6 p.m. neighborhood meeting in Newtown.
When DiPino first got her toy poodle, her niece saw the dog and promptly suggested the name Cupcake. DiPino said she couldn’t name her dog Cupcake, because it didn’t sound tough enough.
“Something like ‘Taser,’ or tougher than that,” DiPino said.
She finally came up with Sea-Sea, which is short for Cupcake (CC), but also the name of a place that DiPino, a “beach person,” loves.
DiPino enjoys her morning walks with Sea-Sea. She hopes to eventually find a gym and play tennis. But that will have to wait.
Right now, she is focused on a smooth transition for the department and looking ahead to future goals.
DiPino said she will make it one of her first priorities to try to get a .223 caliber rifle in every patrol car. Currently, the department owns only 80 of the rifles, and it will cost more money to outfit every police vehicle, but doing so is one way she can help make sure officers are prepared for what they encounter, the chief said.
She also will be looking out for and mentoring officers whom she thinks will become leaders in the department.
The chief is working on a strategic plan for the department, and she’ll be meeting with lieutenants and captains to discuss it.
“I have some ideas, but I am just one person,” she said as she prepared to fire the Glock handgun. “I want their fingerprints on it, too.”
WHAT’S IN DiPINO’S BAG?
• Hand sanitizer — she keeps one in her vehicle, too
• Protein bars — for a quick lunch or snack
• iPad — which DiPino will use to tweet Sarasota police updates and safety tips
• ChapStick — to be prepared for the elements
• Rosary — always in the bag