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A Really Great Guy

The Story of Officer Craig Bergamo

Article by Robin Moyer Chung

Photography by John Videler

Originally published in Westport Lifestyle

I dove into this feature planning to write about the Westport Police Department and acts of kindness. In my interview with Chief Foti Koskinas, Deputy Chief Ryan Paulsson, and Deputy Chief David Farrell the first thing they said was “Craig Bergamo.”

Tough to argue with three policemen.

Officer Craig Bergamo. 39 years old, lives in Trumbull.

President of Westport PAL, director of our annual 4th of July fireworks and Longshore golf tournament, former PAL football coach (for 10 years), runs the annual Toy Drive and the Food Drive for Gillespie, VP of CT Timberwolves and softball coach for his daughter’s team, head of the Motorcycle Unit and head of one of the two police motorcycle schools in our state, FTO (Field Training Officer), 3rd base for 1 or 2 Westport softball leagues at any given time, keynote speaker at numerous events, husband to a (heroically) supportive and understanding woman, and father of two girls, 9 and 11.


I’ve had the good luck/misfortune of “meeting” Craig three times in the past 16 years (minor traffic infractions, so calm your google fingers.) I can attest that if you have to be stopped by a cop, this is your guy.

And this is his incredible story:

The Bergamos (Craig, parents Barbara and Frank, and brother Matt) moved 16 times before Craig’s 17th birthday, to a string of homeless shelters, motels, and friends’ homes.

Frank’s anger issues made his keeping a job impossible, and Barbara, a hairdresser, was unable to work due to carpal tunnel syndrome and shingles. However, they had a “good family structure.”

Due to the myriad of towns and areas in which they lived, Craig bounced from school to school. Though his indeterminate enrollment at any one school sharpened his ability to make friends quickly, he admits his education suffered for it and he still “struggles with reading and writing skills”.

He kept his living situation a secret from his classmates. “Certain close friends knew I lived in shelters if I stayed at their homes,” he says.

While in shelters he witnessed “a lot of crazy stuff” which often resulted in a police presence. Interactions among officers and residents were often positive. “I was seeing how they can help people,” he recalls.

Then he experienced his own interaction when he was 13. “I was a stupid kid doing stupid things, hanging with the wrong kids,” he concedes. For him, the officer interaction wasn’t quite as positive.

Though the cops were respectful, letting him off with a warning, it was a scary encounter. But not as scary as his dad’s reaction. No way was Frank going to have his son go down a path that brought police to their door. He convinced Craig, not so subtly, that malfeasance wasn’t the solution to poverty. Education was.

Frank was a huge proponent of education and believed he would have been more successful had he gone to college. Craig was doing fine at education, decent grades, not great, but he was busy during his teen years.

He worked - as many as four jobs - and sang in the chamber choir. He was on the football team, indoor and outdoor track team, and coached youth football (“I didn’t want to go back to the shelter, so I coached.”) At one point he was a manager in a movie theatre. The shelter he was living in granted him a concession to enter after dark. So he did, returning after his shift at 2 a.m.

During junior year his dad fell ill. Frank didn’t tell his sons he had cancer until days before his death. Craig had finally made honors and showed the report card to his father. “I want a ‘Proud Parent of an Honor Student’ sticker,” his father exclaimed. A day or two later, on February 24, 2001, he died.

“I never went below honors after that,” Craig affirms.

On July 10, five months after his father’s death and three days before Craig’s 18th birthday, he and Matt awoke to their mother’s labored breathing; she was having a heart attack. The brothers watched as EMTs removed her body from their room in the Norwalk Emergency Shelter.*

He was 17 and had no idea what the state did to minors, or what system he’d be dragged into. So he left. “I was MIA for three days,” he states.

On his 18th birthday, he returned to the shelter to collect his family’s belongings and plan his mother’s funeral.

Craig met Linda Vinci when picking up food she had made for the funeral. She and her husband, Charlie, soon became Craig’s rock - today, to his daughters, they are grandma and grandpa.

He had to find a home for himself and Matt. Before her death his mother had received Section 8 housing, so he looked in Bridgeport for an apartment. He found one in a building owned by Westporter Vincent Penna. “He took a chance on a couple of homeless teenagers,” Craig says.

Senior year, his first year without parents, Craig broke his back during football season and was in recovery for six months. Despite the setback, he was voted captain for his track team and achieved third in the state for javelin throwing.

After graduation, he continued to work a number of jobs and was hired as a Westport traffic agent. He enrolled in Norwalk Community College, tentatively considering a career in law enforcement.

A woman contacted him. Her father had learned about him and wanted to pay Craig’s college tuition. He had done the same for other young men and women. He wished to remain anonymous so all communication was handled by his daughter.

After receiving one of the checks, Craig noted the Weston address. He went to the man’s home, rang the doorbell, and introduced himself as the student for whom the man was paying for college. Every semester after that, Craig returned to show the man his grades.

Craig transferred to West Conn, graduating with the two-year degree required to be a member of the police force in Connecticut.

When he was 22 he learned of an opening in the Westport PD. He took the exam along with 400 other hopefuls. Of the top 10 selected, Craig was number 10. He was hired on July 10, 2006, the five-year anniversary of his mother’s death.

Craig had a two-year college degree, but he could go further. A few years into his career Frank's mantra nagged at him. So, while working full-time and helping to raise two then-toddlers, he enrolled in Sacred Heart University and earned a four-year degree. He needed to prove to himself and his daughters “it’s never too late” to finish what you started, and to make his dad proud.

In light of his accomplishments, it’s easy to forget his youth was pockmarked with inequitable hardship and setbacks. Craig corked his story for years, angered by so many memories.

Then he realized that talking to people about his past not only lessened his tension but helped others cope with challenging pasts they couldn’t control and recognize futures in which they can.

During his shift one day, a kid ran away from his grandmother’s home where he was living. Craig found the boy; he was upset and mad. “I told him my story,” Craig recounts. “And he gave me a hug when I dropped him off.”

“I don’t want my kids to go through what I went through,” he continues. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

*Re-named Open Doors

  • Officer Craig Bergamo
  • Westport Police Motorcycle School graduation, he was the lead instructor.
  • Football coach for Westport PAL.
  • At the 60th Annual Chief Samuel Luciano Golf Tournament.
  • Handout of the PAL scholarships.
  • Annual Toy Drive, with his daughter.