By Fred Fink and Lucas Chiang, Summer Times Staff Writers
Last Friday, Journalism students got the chance to interview Paul Gravel, the Director of Campus Safety here at Exeter. Mr. Gravel has been working at Exeter for both the regular and summer sessions for 5 years. The interview went as follows:
Question: What is your main job as the head of campus security?
Answer: Campus Safety and Risk Management is actually my title. My main responsibility is to provide a safe environment on campus for students to learn, faculty, to teach, and administrators to do their job. We have the luxury of having a college campus with high school students. It’s a never-ending task to make sure that people that are on campus belong here and to identify people that are on campus that don’t belong here.
Q:Was this always your dream job?
A: Well, it is a dream job, that’s a good question. The reason why it’s such a great job is that first of all, it is something new every day. Also, I get to work with students. That’s fun because there is always something different that you don’t expect to happen. But yeah, I would say that this is my absolute dream job.
Q: What was your motivation to take up this job?
A: I felt that it was a good way for me to use my law enforcement experience but to get out of law enforcement. That was an opportunity to take my experience and put it in a different sector.
Q: What steps should students take to protect themselves on and off-campus?
A: You have to be aware of your surroundings all the time. Don’t put yourself into a situation that’s going to bring harm to you. Avoid areas on campus that are dark, stay in well-lighted areas, know where the campus blue lights are at all times.
Q: How important do you think is your job?
A: My job is the most important job on campus (laughs). I am just kidding! I think it’s important because people forget. We forget that we tighten in a community here, so people believe that things won’t happen here. It is my job to tell people that they need to be aware of their safety. But it is not the most important job on campus.
Q: Throughout the day, how many hours you get to spend with your family?
A: I am here about eight in half to nine hours a day, depending on the day. When the first week of Exeter Summer starts, our whole Campus Safety division works extra hours so that we are working thirteen to fourteen hours.
Q: What are you and your crew doing if you spot someone suspicious?
A: We approach them and ask them if we can help them. Our campus is an open campus, so we have people that walk their dog or walk over the athletic fields. If it becomes an issue, we call the local police department.
Q: What keeps you up nights?
A: Crosswalks keep me up. We have three main roads that run through campus and hundreds of cars a day. If something bad is going to happen on campus, it is not going to be an active shooter or a major crisis, it is going to be somebody getting hit by a car while crossing the street because we do it so frequently.
Q: Have you noticed a change in the biggest safety issues impacting the campus over the years?
A: Actually, no. I have been here for five years, and we have really strived to spend more time with students, to get out of the patrol cars and to take time to walk through buildings. The issues that we are dealing with have not changed. The biggest thing we do on campus is obviously to help locked out people.
Q: Have you ever investigated mysteries on campus?
A: Sure. During the building of the theater and dance, we had some thefts over there in the middle of the night. We did have an incident where we went back and pieced videos together, worked with local law enforcement to come up with a profile on how the person looked like. We were able to work with the police and get the equipment back, and there was an arrest made.
Q: What is the most dangerous thing you have ever encountered on campus?
A: Last year, during the regular session, there was an inmate that walked away from the correctional institution. Inevitably, he came up to Main Street and made his way on to campus. We got information from the police that he was last seen walking up Tan Lane towards the Library. As soon as we got the information we got into lockdown. Luckily one of the officers stepped in the Library and asked the librarian if they were in lockdown. She said not yet. At the same time, we went into lockdown. He heard the doors locked, and as he stepped out, he looked and saw the guy. He chased him and tackled him. That was probably one of the most critical situations.
Q: Do you know what the inmate went to jail for?
A: I don’t recall exactly what it was, but they charged him with escape after he walked away.
Q: Is there a difference between your job in the regular session and in summer school?
A: Well, we have younger students during summer session, so we’re a little more vigilant with these younger students, with the students having to be in the dorms earlier, so that makes things a little bit easier. We understand that it’s a new environment for most of the students so we spend the first couple days kind of directing people to where they need to be, because everybody gets lost, of course, it takes you a couple weeks to know your way around campus. But other than that, it’s really not that much different.
Q: What about your biography? How did you get here?
A: In my senior year of college, I did an internship with the Nashua, New Hampshire, Police Department. I got hired at the police department about a week before I graduated from college and went through the police academy. I spent 5 years in Patrol and then I worked in Major Crimes for a year. I was transferred to Narcotics, most of my law enforcement career was spent working in Narcotics. I went to work for Citizens Bank as the Director of Physical Security. After I left, I worked for a consulting company for a year and then I saw the opportunity to come here to Exeter and apply for the job. I think it was a good fit for me and a good fit for the school. I’ve been here for 5 years
Q: How big is your staff here?
A: Well, I have 9 full-time officers and 10 part-time officers, or on-call officers, and I also have 8 building supervisors that work second shift, so all together, I think it’s a little less than 30, 27 officers.
Q: Is everybody in uniform or are some undercover?
A: No, we wouldn’t consider it undercover. All of our patrol people wear uniform. I wear a uniform once or twice a week because the people that I work with wear uniforms so I think it’s only fair that I do. It shows camaraderie, it shows that we’re a team and that we work together. If it wasn’t for the team that I have we wouldn’t be as successful as we are and I think we’re pretty successful. There’s a difference between undercover and plain clothes, so plain clothes would be a police officer that just has a badge around his neck. Undercover is when you take on an identity that’s not yours.
Q: Do you ever get scared on the job?
A: No. I’m sure some officers on the midnight shift when they’re out checking a stadium, getting out of the car, you know, it’s dark out there, I’m sure that they feel a little uncomfortable, but that’s part of the job.
Q: What qualifications do you need to become a Campus Safety officer?
A: So there’s two main things that we look for. First of all, they have to like working in the environment. Secondly, they have to be a good fit for the existing people that we have, so, the background really doesn’t matter, it doesn’t have to be a former law enforcer. We have some retired firefighters, law enforcement, we have a retired DEA officer, an investigator from the Department of Justice, and we have a couple officers that have always been in security. So to answer your question, there’s nothing specific that we look for, as long as we feel like they have the right attitude and they know the importance of safety on campus.