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Article Published January 9, 2019
Joe Murgo: Protect, Serve, and Inform
Nathan Hughart

As the public information officer for the East Haven Police Department (EHPD), Lieutenant Joseph Murgo helps to tell the department’s news in a changing world.

Joe became a police officer because “he wanted to do something for somebody” and because of the guidance he received from relatives in New Haven law enforcement, he says. In 2003, he took his first job as a police officer when he joined the force in East Haven.

From his early days as a patrolman, Joe was propelled forward by his own interests.

“Human nature always interested me. I always wanted to learn why people do the things they do,” Joe says.

That pursuit took him to study mental health issues, crisis intervention programs, and even hostage negotiation for the regional SWAT team.

Joe says he’s always learning more about human nature and policing through his job.

“There’s always ongoing training throughout your whole career,” Joe says. “[To start] I took a hostage negotiation course put on by the FBI in 2007.”

As the leader of the local Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), Joe says he participates in a lot of instruction, symposiums, and other learning engagements throughout the state.

He’s even become an instructor in a few areas as part of an initiative started by Police Chief Ed Lennon to host more instruction at the EHPD

The police profession, to better solve community problems, has had to change and adapt throughout the years.

As far as the CIT goes, Joe says the most important thing is de-escalation: finding ways to turn a potentially dangerous situation into peaceful situation, hopefully leading to fewer arrests.

“You want to be able to take someone’s emotions and bring them down to think rationally about a situation,” he says. “[Then], they’re able to come up with better solutions and make better decisions…for them as a civilian and the officer who’s dealing with the situation.”

That training is no longer limited to the CIT, however.

“All the crews going through the academy now have a lot more de-escalation training than they used to,” Joe says. “It’s a whole different way of looking at the profession.”

Learning to de-escalate situations has helped Joe and the other officers of the EHPD solve problems in town, dealing both with suspects and onlookers.

“To be able to not have to resort to using force…that’s huge in today’s society,” Joe says.

Joe says these same principals are important to his work as a SWAT team hostage negotiator, where he often deals with suicidal persons or barricaded subjects.

“We get called out a few times a year. You never know when you’re going to get called out,” Joe says. “But we have a group of men and women whom we depend on…to support our SWAT team.”

Trying to de-escalate a dangerous situation so the SWAT team won’t have to go in and use force is a stressful part of the job.

“A successful hostage negotiator is able to build a good rapport with a complete stranger in as fast a time as possible,” Joe says.

The new emphasis on de-escalation has coincided with advances in police and civilian technology like body-cameras and smart phones, leading to increased police visibility and a national effort by police departments to improve public perception.

For the last three years, Joe has also been the EHPD’s public information officer, a position that, like policing as a whole, has had to evolve. In addition to communicating with the press and the public at large, Joe is also mostly responsible for managing the department’s social media.

“I think it’s important to humanize the badge. I think it’s important for the general public to see the raw emotion that goes on any given call,” Joe says. “The perception of police as a whole has recently been negative.”

In addition to alerting the public of dangers and performing in the notorious lip-sync battles of summer 2018, Joe often posts bodycam footage of police officers doing their jobs on the department Facebook page.

“An overwhelming majority of the time, an officer does everything in his power to de-escalate the situation,” Joe says. “Prior to the body cams, dash cams, I guess it didn’t seem like that.”

The videos, Joe says, are a powerful tool to tell the whole story of an officer making a split decision.

“That’s why we find so much value in Facebook…We’re able to control the content, we’re able to release the information exactly the way it happened,” Joe says. “Facebook is kind of an equalizer.”