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    Wednesday, November 30, 2022

    Norwich police officer dies from COVID-19 complications

    Norwich police Lt. Josip Peperni addresses those gathered for his promotion ceremony on July 20, 2018, at City Hall. The Norwich Police Department announced that Peperni has died of complications related to COVID-19. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Norwich — Veteran police Lt. Josip Peperni died late Tuesday due to complications related to COVID-19, leaving colleagues at the department in shock and mourning for a trusted supervisor, mentor and friend.

    The Lyme resident died Tuesday at the age of 57, according to a brief obituary online. He was not vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to Norwich City Manager John Salomone.

    "We're all devastated," police Chief Patrick Daley said. "He was a longtime member of the department. He's been a fixture here. We're all shocked and devastated."

    According to a news release from the Norwich Police Department, Peperni was the dayside patrol division shift commander at the time of his death. Fellow Norwich police officers learned of his death as they ended their late evening shifts, reported to midnight shift or checked late-night emails before work Wednesday morning.

    Day shift officers said the Wednesday shift was "quiet," with little conversation and side chatter as the officers who worked most closely with him processed their sudden loss.

    Several current and retired Norwich police officers gathered Wednesday evening at Billy Wilson's Ageing Still to relax and talk about their lost friend and colleague.

    "This is what he would have wanted us to do," veteran police dispatcher Dan O'Brien said. "Go out, have a couple beers."

    Colleagues said they felt comfortable talking with Peperni about anything, from technicalities of writing a police incident report to handling complex situations to intimate personal and family issues. Peperni was intelligent and knowledgeable about everything, they said.

    Although two-year Norwich Officer Sarabeth Hanyckyj works the midnight shift, she got to know Peperni as he worked a lot of overtime and was able to coach her along the way. "He was very, very helpful to me," she said. "I learned a lot from him. I could go to him about everything."

    COVID-19 has become the leading cause of death for law enforcement; 280 police officers have died of COVID in 2021, the Officer Down Memorial Page reports.

    The Norwich police station was closed to the public for nearly a month starting Oct. 18 after a COVID-19 outbreak among police department staff. At the peak of the outbreak, nearly a dozen department staff had been infected with the virus.

    The news release chronicled his many roles in the department.

    "Lieutenant Peperni was a 19-year veteran of the Norwich Police Department," it reads. He joined the department in 2002 and graduated in the 290th training class of the Connecticut Police Academy. "He had completed a wide variety of law enforcement courses which include K-9, crisis intervention and school resource officer training."

    Peperni previously worked as a patrolman, K-9 patrol officer, marine/harbor patrol officer, on the crisis intervention team, as a DARE officer, a school resource officer, an administrative sergeant and as records division commander.

    In the past, he had served as the president of the police union and as the treasurer for the Police Benevolent Association. He graduated from Middlesex Community College in 2009 with an associate degree in criminal science.

    Salomone said Peperni was one of the first Norwich police officers he met when he came to Norwich four years ago, as the city was engaged in contract negotiations with the union.

    "When you’re negotiating, you get to see each other a lot," Salomone said. "He was always good to work with."

    The Norwich Police Union mourned the loss of Peperni in a Facebook post early Wednesday.

    "To a man who always treated everyone with the utmost respect and dignity. To a man who loved his family with every fiber in his being," the union's statement reads. "To a brother who treated every member in the Norwich Police Department like family. Lieutenant Josip Peperni, you will always be in the hearts and minds of everyone you have touched. Your positive spirit will live on forever. Rest In Peace Joe Pep. We love you."

    Union President Steve DeLoreto, a 17-year Norwich police veteran, said he started working on the midnight shift with Peperni. He called Peperni dependable, even-handed and intelligent with an attention to detail that never failed. Peperni learned the department’s complex new computer staff system a few years ago and became the expert on the program.

    “You could always go to him with questions,” DeLoreto said. “He was a dependable person. He was the same person whether on or off duty, whether you were working or not, whether he was your boss or not. He’s just the same person.”

    Dispatcher O'Brien turned to Peperni when he was struggling going through a divorce. Peperni, who also had been divorced, helped him get through both the technical and emotional issues. O'Brien said they became fast friends, and Peperni met his future wife at O'Brien's house.

    Peperni is survived by his wife, Katie, and his two grown sons.

    Colleagues said they worried about him and kept one another informed when Peperni went into Middlesex Hospital with COVID-19 in mid-October. As the news worsened, officers rallied to donate sick time hours and other time off to try to give him enough hours to reach his retirement, officers said Wednesday.

    They recalled how Peperni would have their backs whenever they needed a break on the job.

    Officer Neal Carnody, a 14-year Norwich veteran officer, recalled being called into Peperni's office on his birthday last year. The lieutenant wished him a happy birthday and told him to take the rest of his shift off and go spend his birthday with his family.

    Officers needing an hour or two for medical appointments would find that Peperni did not deduct the hours from their sick time.

    The din at Billy Wilson's was called to silence at one point Wednesday evening as Officer Damien Martin raised his glass.

    "To the man who has been a great friend, a great mentor, a kind, considerate man," Martin started. "... God bless you, Joe. Cheers."

    Martin was hired six months after Peperni — "He had badge 285. I had badge 288," he said — and the two worked the midnight shift together early on.

    "He was such a kind-hearted soul," Martin said, "whether personal or professional. He was taking care of the men on his shift. He was a real good supervisor. He earned my respect."

    Valerie Cox, longtime executive secretary to the police chief, said the position of lieutenant suited Peperni, as he was a natural leader and mentor. "I'm going to miss his smile. He was just such a good person."

    While being sworn in as a lieutenant in July 2018, Peperni admitted he is a proponent of dressing down, and that he felt a little uncomfortable in the freshly pressed white dress uniform he wore at the swearing-in ceremony in a full room at City Hall.

    "I would not trade this for the world," Peperni said at the time. "I'm honored and humbled to be able to wear this uniform. This uniform represents so many wonderful things for me. It represents an ability for me to be able to connect with the community that I serve."

    c.bessette@theday.com

    s.spinella@theday.com

    The Norwich Police Department is draped in a black ribbon with flags at half-staff Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 17, 2021, to mark the death of Lt. Josip Peperni of complications related to COVID-19. (Claire Bessette/The Day)
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    Norwich police Chief Pat Daley, right, applauds newly promoted Lt. Josip Peperni, center, and Sgt. Julie St. Jean during a ceremony on July 20, 2018 at City Hall. The Norwich Police Department announced that Peperni has died of complications related to COVID-19. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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