Florida, female police chief reducing tensions

By Nikki Kimbleton - The Morning Show anchor

SARASOTA, Fla. - A lot of people are spending a lot of time and money trying to figure out how police and minority communities can get along better. But one long-time police chief says talking and listening are the key.

"I was lucky, I had parents that supported me and believed in me and taught me that I could be anything that I wanted to be," Chief Bernadette DiPino of Sarasota Police Department said.

And what Chief DiPino wanted to be was a cop.

"My dad was a police officer, and my grandfather, and my great grandfather," Chief DiPino told us. "So I had law enforcement in my blood. It's something I wanted to do ever since I was a little girl."

And now police Chief DiPino even has a daughter who's an officer herself.

After 30 years in blue, 13 of them as chief of two different departments, Chief DiPino has learned to get to know your community and have them know you.

She gives out her cell number, holds community events like free outdoor movies with snacks and has her officers spend at least an hour a day out of their patrol car.

"She's around us, she talks with us," Lou Murray, a concerned citizen in Sarasota, Florida said. "I'm not saying we don't have issues and problems but she's here and she's available, she's accessible."

"By having just those interactions with the citizens that are not police related all the time it's not like ‘oh, there's a police officer pulling me over and that's the only encounter I have,'" Chief DiPino explained. "We try to make our interactions with the citizens on a more friendly level."

But this former swat team commander is no push-over.

She's taken down suspects twice her size, who often don't trust police because of things their parents told them.

"Historically some of that is actually very accurate," Chief DiPino said. "I mean there are plenty of video depictions in the 60's of what police officers did and in a lot of minority communities. That history is passed on from family and generation to generation. It's up to us in law enforcement to break that cycle and to build up the trust."

Police Chief Magazine and The New York Times estimate women make up only one percent of police chiefs nationally. But over 14 percent of the police force and 20 percent of the FBI's special agents are women.

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