Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino: Hands off the Homeless!

7:49 PM, Feb 6, 2013   |    comments
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Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino

Tampa, Florida - Hands off the homeless, that's the direct order from the Sarasota police chief to all of her officers.  

Chief Bernadette DiPino was sworn in nearly a month ago and told 10 News her number one issue was to change the image of the agency when it comes to how police treat the homeless.  

Well, now there's a court order that the chief is enforcing which states that homeless are not to be touched or even told to move along as they hold signs. It is all hands off, unless they break the law or hinder traffic.

In Sarasota it's no secret that the homeless population has exploded, and the Sarasota police department has come under fire recently for it's treatment of homeless people.

See also: Video shows Sarasota Police Officer slamming homeless man's face into wall

The new chief says that's going to stop. 

Chief DiPino says she released a memo to her officers to enforce the court order immediately. 

On the street, 10 News met a homeless man named Larry who stands on a street corner in Sarasota begging for money each day. 

The New England native says he's glad the police are leaving him alone.

He told 10 News, "Majority of the people need jobs. There's no jobs here anymore."

It's a common sight in Sarasota, and according to a new court order, Larry and his buddies are not to be touched by Sarasota cops.

See also:  ACLU says Sarasota Police target homeless, call themselves "Bum Hunters"  

"I really believe in transparency. I don't have anything to hide. It's a way to tackle issues. You can't avoid it," Chief Bernadette DiPino told 10 News. "It's an issue and it's something the police are being called all the time to deal with."

The now-infamous video of a homeless man being beaten by Sarasota police is an image that the chief doesn't ever want to see again. She says the homeless should be treated well, with respect and kindness. 

In fact, she says that they are to be left alone, in complying with the court order.

The chief added, "It's about dealing with people, and it's about connecting with individuals and treating them fairly."

This latest move by the new chief is welcomed and even encouraged by the ACLU. They say it's a step in the right direction.

Andrea Flynn Mogensen is an attorney with the ACLU.  

"I think it's a terrific first step for the police department. We're hoping to see a different approach to what the city perceives to be a problem with homelessness."

The chief says this court order is temporary, however, her goal to help the homeless and change the face of the agency is permanent. She wants people to feel welcomed in Sarasota whether they live in a home or on the street.    

The ACLU met with the chief late Wednesday. Mogensen says the department has been put on probation, so to speak, and the ACLU will be watching the agency closely for the next 60 days.

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