David Leperi had wanted to be a police officer since he was 4 years old, a common dream for youngsters.
Born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects physical and intellectual development, he was unable to attain his goal for many years.
But now the Pittsboro Police Department has made that dream come true in a limited way at least for Leperi, now 41.
Leperi, who lives in Pittsboro with his parents, Dave and Arlene, has had a relationship with the department for several years and accompanies officers on ride-alongs several times a year.
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Last year, Chief Percy Crutchfield decided to make Leperi an honorary officer, and on Dec. 13 he put his hand on the Bible and took the same oath of office all officers have taken. He also got a couple of shirts that are the same as the other officers wear, with the exception that his says “honorary” on the top of the badge insignia.
Later that day, he got to ride in the police car leading the Pittsboro Christmas parade and to direct traffic for the parade.
“He can’t have a gun or handcuffs,” Arlene said, “but he is a part of the force.”
Many ride-alongs are quiet, but Leperi likes when a call comes in and the police cruiser has to speed up.
“It’s like a jet,” he said.
The police instruct him to always stay in the car if they have to get out. If there is any trouble, he knows how to call the station on the radio.
In a letter the family wrote to Crutchfield and Pittsboro Mayor-elect Cindy Perry after the parade, Leperi expressed his gratitude for his appointment:
“Thank you for making me me part of your team. You are all very good to me. You are always there for me, and I will be there for you.”
Leperi was drawn to the police because of what they do for the community.
“They help people, protect them,” he said. “They keep our town safe. No bad guys. They lock them up.”
Leperi grew up in Ocean City, New Jersey, and started doing ride-alongs with the police there after high school.
He earned his black belt in taekwondo and had training in firearm safety. He also got his driver’s license.
And he is never without his most prized possession, his police scanner.
“All these things were related to police-type skills,” Dave Leperi said. “That was his goal, to become a police officer some day.”
The family moved to Pittsboro nine years ago.
Arlene said her son’s disability makes it hard for him to express his emotions, but she could tell how excited he was to be sworn in because his knees were shaking as he took the oath.
“This is really the first time in a long time that he has been proud of himself,” she said.
And she has noticed that he has been more outgoing since the ceremony.
An officer at a basketball game at Campbell University, where Dave is an adjunct professor of special education, noticed the badge on the police shirt David was wearing, and Arlene told the officer his story.
“He treated him like a brother,” she said of the officer.
Crutchfield said his officers may get even more out of being around Leperi than he does.
“They look forward to having him along,” he said. “He’s a joy to be around and an awesome guy. He’s a perfect example of unconditional friendship. ... He leaves you a better person.”
The department posted an item about his swearing-in ceremony on its Facebook page the next day, and by the end of the week it had been viewed more than 68,000 times.
Most of the department’s posts get no more than a few thousand views, Crutchfield said.
Leperi also attends Central Carolina Community College in Siler City two days a week to work on academic and social skills. And he is a Special Olympics champion in bocce ball.
He continues to save every dollar he gets to one day pay for police academy. His parents, of course, know how much his Down syndrome hurts his chances of removing the “honorary” tag from his badge, but they don’t discourage him.
“It doesn’t hurt to dream,” Arlene said.