SARASOTA, FLA. - Sarasota Police officers and residents of Newtown danced and ate lunch together during a Saturday afternoon block party hosted by police.
“I think we as police officers have an opportunity every day to make a positive difference in somebody’s life,” said Chief of Police Bernadette DiPino.
The neighborhood party was a chance for police officers and residents to get to know each other.
“It was awesome. It is really cool and it there is a lot of people out here,” said resident Destiny Johnson.
The block party included a bounce house for kids and a live DJ as entertainment as well as fresh hamburgers and hotdogs.
“It is pretty cool, everybody is getting along,” said Newtown resident Taiwandra Burks. She said the block party was a good way for residents and police to repair a relationship that has been strained in the past.
“Everybody is afraid to do anything, say anything, be a part of anything but everybody wants to come to a solution so I think that communication is the key. We all need to say how we feel about what is going on so we can take it from there.”
Chief DiPino decided to host the block party last year after a close call in the neighborhood. She said a hostile crowd surrounded one of her officers while he was fighting with a suspected drug dealer resisting arrest.
“I thought, you know, we need to empower the citizens to take back their neighborhood because they support the police,” said DiPino.
Some SPD officers disagree with the chief. Several have used a police web site called LEO Affairs to anonymously voice their disapproval of the chief’s decision to host a block party where an officer was threatened.
“There is always people who are going to be critics no matter what you do,” said DiPino.
She believes the party was a huge success not only because the residents had a chance to mingle with police officers in a friendly environment but also because officers were able to see they have the support of the community.
“I think our officers need to see that and that is what this is really for too, for our officers to see the citizens support them and really appreciate them.”
Chief DiPino says they are already planning future block parties for Newtown and other communities throughout Sarasota.