Paul Gravel is Phillip Exeter’s Director of Campus Safety. We invited him in to our journalism class for a chat.
Question: What are your everyday tasks that you do here?
Paul Gravel: I’m the director of campus safety, so as the director I’ll walk you through my day. I get up around 4 a.m. and I check my emails to see if anything happened the night before that needs to be addressed. I usually touch base with our 24/7 dispatch center, and as you know from assembly we have somebody at campus at all times- at least 2 officers 24/7. I try to get in at around 7:30, sit down with the officers that are going off shift to see if there’s anything that needs to be addressed during the day. It could be anything from damage on campus to a door that was left open because we have periodic checks of all our buildings. It could be an issue with card access, it could be a multitude of things. But most of my day is taken up with meetings with HR, projects, we also handle all the security systems on campus, so installation of cameras, installation of card access, meeting with the athletic department. They also have what most people refer to as gym monitors, which are actually our athletic facility safety officers. It’s mostly about making sure what needs to get done is getting done. I’ve only been here for about two months, so when I got hired I set up a 30-60-90 day forecast as to where I want to be. I just hit my 60 days, so we just had a general meeting with everybody from Campus Safety to say “Okay this is what we talked about when I got hired, this is where we are, this is where we’d like to go. ”I’m pretty open, my leadership skills are really around open dialogue like this. I sit down with my staff on a daily basis to address what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong, and what we need to fix. So that’s pretty much my day.
Q: So what was your life like before you got hired. Past jobs?
A: I’m a retired law enforcement officer, I worked for 25 years with the Nashua New Hampshire Police Department and retired as a bureau commander. When I was there I worked narcotics, I worked undercover for 9 years, patrol, I worked major crimes, I was the commander of the SWAT team, I also oversaw the crisis negotiation team. I retired, and I went to work for the Royal Bank of Scotland for 8 years, I then left there and worked a year in consulting. I worked for the city of Manchester for a few months as the security manager for the city, and I oversaw security for all the schools and municipal buildings. The consulting thing wasn’t busy enough for me; I like to stay busy, so I started looking to see what was out there and I saw the opportunity to come work here, and I applied alongside 70 other candidates. It’s an outstanding process to get hired here, I do want to say that. I did three visits, and I had interviews with about 60 people from the principal right down to the groundskeepers, to the people who work in the dining hall. Everybody had input, and I thought that was great. I knew that if I got the position that I’d have the support that I needed, and it all fell into place very well for me. I really enjoy being here.
Q: So what attracted you to Exeter? Why here?
A: That’s a great question. Someone asked me this question in an interview and you know what I said? “Why not?” I mean this is the number 1 private high school in the country, who wouldn’t want to work here? I like to use the analogy “If I were a professional football player and somebody said, ‘Do you want to play for the Patriots?’” Are you kidding me? Why wouldn’t I? But that’s because I’m a Pats fan. So to answer your question, I knew the excellence in the institution, I came and visited prior to my interviews to see if it was going to be a good fit for me, and it was. I talked with people that worked here for 20, 30, 40 years, and people only stay at places that long if it was a great place to work. An opportunity came up for me to visit the school for the weekend Phillips Andover was here, so I got to meet with the faculty, almuni, and talk to some of the students, and I went home saying “Yeah, this will be a good fit.” So that’s my background.
Q: What are common issues you face on campus?
A: During the regular school year some petty thefts probably keep us the busiest, and it’s not necessarily the students. I think I mentioned it during the assembly, we have a pretty open campus policy. We know that in the dining hall, you don’t have to swipe a card, or show an ID to get in. During Summer School it’s different because you have to wear your IDs, but during the school year students don’t have to wear them at all times, so differentiating a student from somebody who doesn’t belong on campus can be pretty difficult for us. So, when you go into the dining hall and leave a backpack there or something that’s pretty valuable, we can’t control who is going in and out of there, so that creates a problem for us. Luckily since I’ve been here, the number of issues we’ve had 4 backpacks taken, and we’ve recovered them and all of the contents. I’m sure you’re very familiar with what’s going on across the country, not just in New Hampshire but there’s a massive heroin epidemic going on and my experiences working narcotics is that those types of hereoin addicted people are looking for cash, whatever’s going to get them their next fix. In a high school setting like this, if they could get inside and get their hands on something that they can turn into cash, that’s what they’re trying to do. If there’s a backpack, if there’s a laptop, or an iPad, or a phone, most times they just drop it because they’re looking for cash. I tried to share at the assembly how important it is not to carry around a lot of cash with you if you can avoid it.
Q: To clarify, are you saying that outside people come and take students’ belongings?
A: Yes, because we do have that open campus policy. As I mentioned, we have those streets that run through campus, so those are public ways. I don’t know if you noticed those people handing out Bibles the other day, you probably have. It’s public property, so we can’t stop them from doing that, but we can talk with them, and I express my concerns around the safety of the students. They were very forthcoming, and they understood my side of it, but we are right in the middle of Exeter, so our open campus can create an issue at times. Some of the other things we deal with… we do a lot of transportation if we have an injured athlete or anybody needs transportation. We’re kind of the go-to people and we want to be the go-to people 24/7 because we have all the contacts. I say “if you don’t know who to call, call us, we’ll take care of it.” We’ll send you in the right direction and we can get things done in the middle of the night that most people can’t. We work very closely with the Dean of Students’ office. Anything that comes up on campus that involves Exeter Police Department on campus or Exeter Fire, I get the phone call 24/7 to just let me know that they’re on campus. That’s mandatory, I’ll reach out to the dean on duty to let them know that we’ve had them on campus. We have a close rapport with the Exeter Police Department, I established that as soon as I came. It’s a little easier being close with law enforcement as we speak the same language. I was able to sit down with the chief and get his expectations, our expectations, the need to have that open line of communication, the need to be able to sit down and openly discuss issues in place on campus, or maybe in the community that may affect us on campus. It’s a two-way street. If something happens within the proximity of the campus, I’ll get a phone call from somebody regardless of if it’s the captain, the detectives, the chief to say “Paul, just to give you a heads up we have something going on you might want to go into lockdown.” It’s critical to have that communication.
Q: Can you elaborate on your 30-60-90 day plan? What are your objectives by each deadline?
A: My first 30 day goal was to get out and meet people. I’m pretty much the face of Exeter’s Campus Safety, so I went to a lot of events. At the time, it was just towards the end of the school year so there were a lot of faculty events that I went to. I went to graduation. The first few days were meeting with the Chief of Police at Exeter, meeting with the Fire Chief of Exeter, I met with the principal, Mr. Hassan at the time, because he wanted to get my piece as to what I was doing, my strategy moving forward. I wanted to get his expectations, so the first 30 days was pretty much feeling my way around, learning my way around campus. I was the Director of Campus Safety, and I was kind of bumbling around. I didn’t know one building from the other, but I learned that pretty quick. Then I brought each of the officers in and gave an opportunity to have a closed door session with me as to any issues there were in the past, that we could get rid of. I came in with a clean slate, I didn’t have any preconceived expectations or notions but it was critical for me to be able to sit down with each one of those officers and the gym monitors. I met with everybody individually to say again, what’s working, what would you like to see. I ended up with a legal pad filled of “We like this! We like this!” And I listened, I listened to everything they had to say during the first 30.
The next 30 was more about systems. I needed to get a grasp of the card access system, what did we have on campus, what did we have when it came to cameras. If you’ve noticed, we have very few cameras internally in the buildings on campus, but we do have cameras externally, so I needed to get my hands around that, where we’d like to go with that, what’s working, what’s not working. I met with a lot of vendors, looked at a lot of contracts, a lot of service contracts with our vendors, with a lot of technical stuff that you’re probably not that interested in, but I needed to do that as the Director. Then going forward in the next 30 days, I’m going to get proposals together for making recommendations on more security things.We’re working on the new work out facility, the new athletic facility which as you know should be opening up soon, so how are we going to control access. Part of my job is also environmental safety, so I have people I work on that with and we discuss issues. You may not even know it but when walking down to the athletic fields you see all the tape on one side and all the sawhorses to keep you over on one side, that’s not just put there. We sat down and we decided what’s the best way to keep the students safe, we have a professionals and have certifications in doing that to decide where the students are gonna go so nobody gets hurt.
Q: How big is your staff?
A: We have 12 full time campus safety officers, 7 part-time officers, 6 Athletic Facilities Safety Officers and 2 Environmental Safety personnel for a total of 27 people in Campus Safety Services.
Q: What was it like working internationally?
A: Very interesting. So I handled physical security for the United States and South America, and…the Royal Bank of Scotland was very different. Here in the United States I had physical security for all of our branches, and all of our facilities. When I first came on there were 1,530 branches and we had up towards 200 building facilities across the United States. So in order to protect our assets, we look at things a lot differently in the US than the UK. We had incidents where if we had a major bank robbery the colleagues wanted some type of protection afterwards, what we’d like to call a “feel good” thing.
Q: what do you have the most fun with in your job?
A: This. This is the most fun. I don’t very often get to sit down with the students. That’s what I do, is serve the students. In law enforcement we’re a lot more proactive but when show up at something, as law enforcement it’s not always in the best circumstances and people don’t necessarily want us there. Here it’s much different. We’re always helping, we’re always looking to helping. So if I have a student like we did the day before graduation, a student came in tears. She lost her I.D badge couldn’t get in her dorm a and was all distraught. Everything was going on. It was the week before prom, and the class trip. I was able to come out of my office, calm her down and say “it’s not the end of the world. You’re moving on to college and think about that and I’m sure there will be some other things that come in your life and look back and laugh. And above that I’m going to give you that I.D. for free.” So those type of things I really enjoy. I enjoy being able to get out and jump on the golf cart, stop in and see different people around when I have the opportunity, when I’m not in meetings. It’s a great atmosphere. It’s a great place to work
Q: Have you ever thought about teaching?
A: I taught criminal justice at a community college. It was actually community policing. It wasn’t a great experience for me. I think I put [in] probably twice as much work than the students did. It’s a lot of work and you want everybody to be enthusiastic as you are when you teach and it wasn’t the case. I coached when my daughters were younger. I coached Special Olympics now since my daughters are older. I teach track and field. And if I had to coach again I would take my team to a Special Olympics event and have them sit and watch those athletes and say “this is what it’s all about” because they encourage each other, there’s no winner or losers, whether the met each other or come totally different parts of the state they come together as a team. It’s very awarding to watch
Q: What accounts for your interest in special Olympics?
A: When I stopped coaching, there’s always something I could give. I had a friend who just got started in Special Olympics. So I kind of got into that. I do the penguin plunge every year at Hampton beach in February. It’s a great fundraiser. I just really enjoy the athletes.
Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
A: I spend a lot of time in the gym every morning at 4:30 a.m. It’s a release for me. It’s something I started doing when I first joined the police department. I have been the gym longer than you’ve been alive. It’s a good outlet for me. If I have a really bad day I go to gym after work and throw some weights around, some cardio. I come out of there feeling pretty good. And I encourage the people I work with to do the same. It works for me. I have been able to be in my career to be in positions that I have been able influence smaller groups, which I really enjoy. I have been very fortunate. I had a great career. I did fun things. Police work isn’t always th best job everyday, but I think it prepared me well for this position. If you talk to anybody that works with me, nobody works for me , they all work with me. I’m kind of happy go lucky mood. If I’m not, they know because I wear my heart on my sleeve. But I want people to come to work and have fun. I want parents that send you guys here to know that you’re safe, that I would send my kids here cause I know it safe.
Q: Would you say the the criticisms of police officers is harsh or…?
A: No I think it’s right on. I really do. I think police should be held to a higher standard. I know what I went through to get on the job And I know the training I had to go through. It’s unfortunate it brings a black mark to everybody wearing that uniform. Once you’re a police officer you’re always a police officer. Law enforcement is a brotherhood. Once you see things that happen in New York or in Ferguson it’s a learning moment a teaching moment but it hurts.
Q: Did you always want to be in the occupation you’re in in now?
A: Since I was seven years old. I have been so fortunate. I followed the path I started since I was little kid. I wanted to be a police officer. I went to college I got my criminal justice degree. I got into the academy I did an internship in senior year, I did patrol for some years, I wanted to become a detective I took the exam I passed it, went to the detectives, I wanted to work narcotics I had the opportunity, I worked narcotics. I wanted to go back to school to get my MBA it’s something I always wanted to do. This is my dream job. I wanted to run Campus Safety.