Man with special needs takes ride along with Surfside Beach police
In June, David Leperi donned a bulletproof vest, making his dream of becoming a police officer a reality — at least for a day.
Leperi, now a Surfside Beach resident, has Down syndrome. But on June 26, Cpl. Kim Decker, a Surfside Beach police officer, took Leperi on a ride along.
"That's what keeps him involved," said Dave Leperi, David's dad. "My wife and I are delighted because Kim Decker and Surfside have been very proactive with getting David involved and just making somebody happy for a day.
"He doesn't do the ride alongs every month, maybe in the fall we'll do it again. But, just to let the community know that police do other things besides arrest people and give people tickets. It's a positive community feeling."
During his ride along, Decker, who is a beach patrol officer, took David out on the beach, showing him where jet skis are deployed from for ocean rescues, and pulled over drivers for speeding on the highway.
"I think sometimes people look at police where it's all negative," Decker said "We make arrests, you don't speed through Surfside, but then there's another side to us too. We're no nonsense, no games, but we're also in the community aspect."
Decker said as an officer she works to get to know people in the community. In Surfside she is known as Officer Kim.
And, for Decker, taking David on a ride along shed light on both police officers and people with special needs.
"Many many times, people forget about inclusion and they forget about special needs populations and they get a little scared," Dave Leperi said. "When people see Kim riding along with David, they're kind of like cool. Like wow, look at this, this is really neat.
"And it gives them an uplift and people get to know not just her, but they get to know David and they get to know what the disability is all about."
This isn't the first time David has worked with local police. During his time in Pittsboro, North Carolina, officers made David an honorary police officer, swearing him into the department.
When it comes to policing, David said it is important to "keep people safe and protect the innocent."
In his neighborhood, David runs a community watch program, riding along with his dad, checking on the clubhouse and making sure people's garage doors are closed after 9 p.m.
Megan Tomasic, 863-626-0343, @Megan Tomasic