To the point with Dave Charteris, head of Rhodes CPU

Dave Charteris has been the head of the Campus Protection Unit for the past 20 years. Danielle Brock and Samantha Scott talk to this incredibly private man about his experiences.

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Q: What exactly does your job entail as head of CPU?
A: I am the manager of Campus Protection Unit, so my main task is to ensure that there is 24-hour  security service, 365 days a year.

Q: How long have you been involved with CPU?
A: 20 years in the position of manager.

Q: What influenced you to work for Campus Protection as opposed to any other security business?
A: I ran a private security company in Port Elizabeth and it (this position) was brought to my attention
by a colleague of mine, so I applied. It wasn’t a serious application, but you know how you come to Rhodes
Grahamstown is a funny place; it actually gets under your skin. Though you intend to stay here a short time, 20 years later here I am.

Q: So did you grow up in Port Elizabeth?
A; No, originally I came down from Zimbabwe. My background there was that I was in the BSA Police. That was my original career.

Q: What services do you provide for the students?
A: Well, particularly for the students, we try and be a part of the learning experience; we have to try and teach some life skills on how to look after their own security. We obviously put in safety measures to look after the students and to ensure that Rhodes is a safe place and to assist students in any way we can.  We’re open 24 hours a day so we’re a natural help desk; they come to us with all sorts of problems. If they don’t know who to ask or where to go, or who to go to they can always come to us. We either help them directly or point them in the right direction.

Q: What are your specific hours of work?
A: I work office hours; I’m obviously around after hours as well, on call.

Q: When there has been a case of misconduct, do the students come to you? Do you personally deal with the issue?
A: We have a part to play in this as we’re one of the bodies responsible for student behaviour. When  student behaviour comes to our notice, we would take action, we would record the details and then we would forward the information either to the relevant warden, or to the university prosecutor. It depends on what the case is.

Q: So you don’t deal out the punishment?
A: No, we only deal with the traffic fines. We are not authorized to issue fines to students, or any other kind of punishment.

Q: For more serious cases, do you work closely with the police?
A: Oh yes, we have a very close liaison with the police.

Q: How do you feel about drunken students who behave inappropriately?
A: They’re a pain in the neck (laughs). They give us a hard time. I don’t mind drunken students having fun; we were all young once. Have a good time,  party, but when it starts to interfere with other people’s good time, then it’s not pleasant. The other big worry for us, well for me, in particular, is that in doing so they actually make themselves a very susceptible target for crime. It’s a well-established fact that there’s a close correlation between alcohol and things such as road accidents and muggings and rapes. The uncontrolled drinking is a problem.

Q: Do you feel that CPU has been efficient in their services?
A: Yes, I believe they are but there’s always room for improvement in anything. And we’re constantly changing; we have to stay one step ahead of the criminal element. The fact that crime on campus is less than it was 20 years ago shows the effectiveness of the CPU operation. The only way to measure the effectiveness of a security operation is to measure the negatives, the amount of crime that has happened. We can’t measure our successes, because we don’t know a lot about them. Purely by your mere presence on the street you could have prevented a crime, which you will never know about. Guards patrolling
down the street might prevent a mugging, but because it never happened there’s no way we will ever know about it. We can’t actually measure it, so all we can do is measure the absence of crime.

Q: How is your relationship with the staff?
A: I think it’s a very good relationship. I think I get the best out of them because they want to do what they have to do willingly as opposed to being forced to do it.

Q: Do you feel that you receive enough support from the university?
A: That’s a curve ball you’re throwing at me there. Yes, I obviously have a good working relationship with them and I have channels that I can work through. I ask for things, some of which I get and some of which I don’t; it’s the same with any department. A big part of it is costs and the budget. While I see something as important or critical I sometimes battle for my slice of the total pie and I might not get it. But overall the university takes security very seriously as it is a very emotive issue.

Q: What would you say is one of your most memorable moments as head of CPU?
A: Well as I say, over the 20-year period there’s been a lot of crazy, incredible, amazing things. It’s hard
to put my finger on one right now. Some of them might be very embarrassing to the individual students that were involved so I have to wait for 30 years to expire before I can tell those stories.

Q: What do you think has been your greatest achievement in security?
A: I think the fact that we’ve been able to reduce and control the rate of crime on campus is a big one. Okay, it is rising at the moment and in the last couple of years it has gone up marginally but you need to consider that the intake of students is increasing and we are now at double the student population. There has also been the introduction of cellphones and laptops – which never used to be around 20 years ago – that are expensive, highly desirable and portable and therefore easy to steal. We also hold conferences
on campus and the arts festival which never used to be around that many years ago. There hasn’t been an increase in the amount of guards and despite all those challenges we have not only been able to reduce the amount of crime to its original figure but maintain it at that low level.

Q: So when the National Arts Festival festival is on, is the CPU still in operation?
A: Yes. All the reses are full with visitors and we also have venues on campus that are used for shows and other events. We have thousands of people on campus and because it’s open to the public we have no  access control so we have all sorts of interesting people coming here. So yes, it is a great challenge for us.

Q: Is there anything else besides your  profession in security that interests you?
A: Well I like DIY, tinkering with motor vehicles, gardening, boating and I’m interested in aircraft and flying. I’m not a pilot or anything but I do enjoy it.

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