Former Ocean City police chief named in new Stephen King novel ‘The Institute’
By Timothy Fanning
Dec 01, 2019 | 9:00 AM
SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — Stephen King's newest science fiction thriller "The Institute" has no possessed cars. It has no evil cats, dogs or toys, no metamorphosing diabolical entities or invaders from other dimensions intent on tormenting innocent children.
But it does have Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino — longtime Ocean City, Maryland, police officer and former chief — and a fictional ex-cop who was forced to resign from the department after an episode described as a “Rube Goldberg” bungle.
It happens like this:
The novel opens with Tim Jamieson, the ex-cop, who, after losing his job in Sarasota, wanders north to South Carolina, where he takes a gig as a semi-official night patrolman.
A year before, Jamieson's career with the Sarasota Police Department ended after he fired a warning shot to break up a fight at Westfield Mall, a potential reference to the company's two malls in Sarasota.
Jamieson was off duty and in uniform. He had been drinking and there was a lawsuit.
"I reported to Bernadette DiPino. She's the Sarasota Chief of Police," Jamieson told a small-town sheriff during his job interview.
The next day, the sheriff calls DiPino. She was in early and picked up the phone, something Sarasota's real police chief says would depend on the day. She's usually never in before 9 a.m. (her poodle Sea-Sea needs a walk first).
"It's funny, I do get up early, but I am more of a night owl," said.
DiPino, as it so happens, is a huge Stephen King fan. Her love of the author and part-time Sarasota resident began with the 1983 horror classic "Pet Sematary" (DiPino devoured it while curled in a chair, afraid to let her feet touch the ground).
Learning that she was a character in a novel by her favorite author, no matter how small the role, was a big honor for DiPino — who has been named officer of the year three times and has had 16 commendations in her decades-long career. It was also a surprise (she learned about it from a family friend).
"It was almost like winning an award," said DiPino, who is also Sarasota's first female police chief. "The only thing that tops this is maybe being a main character that's killed off by a monster or something."
"The Institute," released in September, tells the story of Luke, a 12-year-old kidnapped and brought to a facility hidden in the woods of Maine (King's home state). There, he and others are subjected to often brutal experiments.
DiPino, an avid reader, is still trying to finish the novel on the weekends. It's her "at-home, relaxing book."
She's also trying to finish reading "God Will Carry You Through" by Max Lucado, a book about how to cope with the loss of a loved one and the stresses of everyday life.
“The book is helping me cope and deal with that situation,” DiPino said. “There are words in that book that really resonate with me. It gave me this feeling that God was speaking to me personally.”
Hays, a Stephen Decatur High School graduate, was released in May and is continuing to heal, DiPino said. Hays hopes to be back on light duty by the first of the year.
Sarasota political writer Sally Fernandez has also used the Sarasota area as a backdrop. In her 2016 spy thriller “Climatized,” a story that follows the main character Max Ford as she delves into the mysterious deaths of a senator and several climate scientists.
Guess who interviews Max after an attack outside Patrick’s restaurant in downtown Sarasota? Bernadette DiPino.
"I don't know if I have one of those names that are good for books," DiPino said. "Maybe it's because I'm a police chief living in an area that's good for stories."
Last year, Variety reported that the Dunham Group had tapped writer and producer Noam Dromi and Evan Greene to develop “Climatized” into a feature film, something DiPino is eager for. She hopes she’ll be played by Jennifer Lopez, Sandra Bullock or Reese Witherspoon.
If they ever make "The Institute" into a film, DiPino hopes they cast her to take that phone call. If not, she just wants a few things in the potential actor:
"Someone tough, someone more attractive than me, someone cool," DiPino said. "Someone with a big heart."