“It was a gut punch.”
Twenty-eight-year-old Mike Garguiolo and his field training officers looked at one another in shock when the call came over the LSU Police Department radio July 17. Shots fired.
As law enforcement officers across the city rushed to the scene near Old Hammond Highway, Garguiolo and his FTOs continued their patrol of campus.
Three law enforcement officers—Montrell Jackson and Matthew Gerald of the Baton Rouge Police Department, and Brad Garafola of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office — were killed in the shooting, while three others were wounded. The officers were targeted by the shooter, Gavin Long, who also died at the scene.
Garguiolo, who was just 13 days into his field training at the time, said the experience was a wake up call, and since that day he approaches his work with added precaution. Learning about targeted attacks against police is common procedure, but the lesson takes on new meaning when experienced firsthand, he said.
Despite the risks, Garguiolo said his resolve to serve as a police officer hasn’t wavered since the shooting. Each day carries risk, but each day also includes the opportunity to help others, he said.
Police officers help preserve the balance between peace and anarchy in communities, he said, and regardless of circumstances the job needs to be done.
“Someone has to, and I trust myself that I can stand up to that challenge,” Garguiolo said.
Garguiolo came to Louisiana in August 2015 from Buffalo, New York, where he graduated from the State University of New York College at Buffalo in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. After working for a prison and another agency in the state, Garguiolo decided to attend the Capital Area Regional Training Academy in spring 2016.
Following his graduation from CARTA in March 2016, Garguiolo transferred to LSUPD and began his field training July 4. Garguiolo said he views universities as hubs for fostering the future and wanted to help safeguard that mindset and protect the university’s students, he said.
Garguiolo graduated from the field training program in late September and said he hopes his career can be as smooth and successful as his first weeks as a patrol officer. Garguiolo typically works with a team of at least five other officers who patrol campus in eight hour shifts.
Garguiolo said each officer has a particular style of patrolling, and he prefers to visit heavily populated areas such as dorms and the LSU Student Union to introduce himself to students when not responding to calls. Getting to know students is a key component of protecting them, and community policing can lead to better outcomes when incidents do arise, he said.
Speaking with students and making his presence known has also made Garguiolo more sociable, he said. Being able to talk with individuals at the scene of a crime or incident is crucial to working successfully as an officer.
Sometimes policing is social work, Garguiolo said, and verbal adaptability and being able to communicate well is important to resolving conflict. Remaining calm, having patience and approaching the situation with the right mindset are all important aspects of being a successful officer, he said.
Many times policing is more about service to the public than the number of arrests made.
In a recent stalking incident, Garguiolo said the job doesn’t end once an arrest is made. Ensuring the victim remains in touch with police and has access to support networks, such as The Lighthouse Program at the LSU Health Center, are just as important to preserving safety as making an arrest.
Though community policing produces better outcomes, it can also make it more upsetting when incidences do occur.
“Not everything works out the way you want it to work out, and not everyone upholds the law, but that’s what we’re here for,” Garguiolo said. “That’s challenging itself though, because you’re putting all that time into trying to community police and things still happen.”
Garguiolo said the brotherhood within the department is essential for safety and getting through the day. The officers, especially officers on the same patrol, build strong bonds of friendship and trust, he said.
As a new officer, he said whenever he’s unsure of a situation his fellow officers don’t hesitate to assist him. They have his back, and he has theirs, he said.
Photo by Greta Jines.