SARASOTA, Fla. - Some staff members at the Sarasota Police Department are upset with Chief Bernadette DiPino for planning a barbecue at the site of a violent scuffle involving an officer and an alleged drug dealer.
On November 26th, Officer Ken Goebel witnessed 36-year-old Peter John Porter selling drugs in the area near Leon Avenue and 23rd Street in Sarasota. When Goebel approached Porter, the suspect fled. Once able to catch up with him, Porter resisted and began fighting with the officer. A police report states a group people gathered around the scene and acted hostile toward the officer. Chief Bernadette DiPino responded to the scene, and arrived moments after Porter was placed in handcuffs.
"I was concerned that the citizens there are not supporting the police officer that was there doing his job to keep the community safe and keep a drug dealer off the street," said DiPino.
To keep the peace, DiPino and several senior staff members returned to the neighborhood the next day to meet with residents. After discussing their concerns, DiPino decided to hold a social gathering for the neighborhood. On January 4th, the police department will host a community block party barbecue in the same area the fight occurred.
The decision has ruffled the feathers of some of the department's own officers. On the webside LEOAffairs.com, unnamed officers are blasting the Chief for hosting the barbecue. Some of the comments include:
"This is so terribly said and it just proves once and for all that she (DiPino) has no interest in the members of the department."
"While I understand community relations are important, it cannot be at the cost of an officer's safety and well being."
Responding to the criticism, DiPino says, "Community policing is a little bit of a new philosophy for our officers. Over the last year, I have been teaching the officers about it and encouraging them, but there are still some people with a little bit of an outdated idea and concept of what law enforcement is about."
Meanwhile, not everyone is upset. The Sarasota chapter President with the NAACP, Trevor Harvey, says the event is a first, and calls the Chief's idea, "excellent."
"I think the community will understand they are in it for the same thing we are. They want a better community and a batter way of living for all the citizens in Sarasota," said Harvey.
Residents living on Leon Avenue tell us they are looking forward to the event as well.
"It's good to stop the violence. It's good the Chief is coming out here," said homeowner, Ken Ruffin.
While some may find the Chief's actions questionable, since her arrival one year ago, crime has reduced in the city of Sarasota by 3%. The force has been able to accomplish this with fewer officers compared to years past. The Chief credits hard work and community policing for the reduction.