Westporters have been stunned by the death yesterday of Vincent Penna, apparently of a heart attack. He was 51 years old.
A police officer for 26 years, he retired as deputy chief in 2017. He began as a patrol officer, became a detective in 2001 and sergeant in 2006, then returned to the detective bureau in a leadership role before being named deputy chief.
Along the way he served on the Westport Police tactical team, and was a field training officer, certified firearms instructor and professional standards commander. As captain he oversaw all operations of the detective bureau, including DARE, the Regional Task Force and Domestic Violence Victims Unit.
As deputy chief he was responsible for the Westport Emergency Medical Services, Internal Affairs Division, Public Information Office, Animal Control Division, Training Division and Information Management Team.
Penna received many awards and commendations for bravery, and was tenacious in his investigations. A high profile murder case was solved with his dedication, management skills and ability to work with, federal and international agencies.
He also served as president of the Westport Police Union Local 2080, and the Westport Police Benevolent Association.
When he retired, Penna said his legacy at the department would be his work to get Westport included in Norwalk’s juvenile review board, and his role in helping the department become one of 40 around the state to achieve Tier 1 accreditation.
“Vinny” was the son of Vincent Penna Sr., longtime owner of Penna Construction. The family has deep roots in Saugatuck.
Police Chief Foti Koskinas calls Penna’s death “a devastating loss. In the most stressful situations, he kept people together with his presence and his humor.”
Koskinas recalls many instances when Penna saw someone suffering. “He wrote a check, or got them food or clothes. He always did the right thing, even — especially — when no one was looking.”
Early in his career, as a brand new officer, there was a double drowning in a local pool. “The steps Vinny took, the condolences he offered — I saw a side of humanity that sticks with me today,” the chief says. “He was devastated, but he did whatever he could to help out.”
Koskinas notes Penna’s special ties to Westport.
“Public service is always special. But to serve the community you were brought up in is even more special. When the time came for him to leave his ‘family’ at the Police Department, and take over his family business with his father, it was just another way of giving back to the village he and his family had been raised in.”
Koskinas notes that Penna was also “an incredible father. As much as he gave to his community, his first priority was his wife Denise and his sons, Vincent and Nicholas. He did not miss a game or an event, or even a doctor’s appointment. They were his life.”
Deputy Police Chief Sam Arciola grew up with Penna. “We lived together, worked together and fished together,” he says. “He was a great family man — father, husband son. That was most important to him.”
Penna purchased a boat this summer, Arciola says, and spent many hours on the water with his wife and boys.
“But he was a great police officer too. And he was just such a good person. He would do anything for you.”
RTM member Andrew Colabella adds, “Vinny and his family were 2 pillars of this town. Through law enforcement and construction, they served the public and the community with the highest respect and integrity.
“No job was too big or hard to complete. No crime went unanswered or unsolved.
“He was the ultimate Westport role model. He was born and raised here. He worked for the town, and in town. He loved the town, with the goal to continue raising his family here just like the Pennas have done for generations. This is such a loss to everyone.”