Their presence on campus is unwavering. They are seen in watching behind the tinted windows of their Dodge Chargers. They are seen patrolling central campus, observing every member of the community from behind their equally tinted sunglasses.
From a distance, they can seem more like a part of campus than actual people, but rest assured, the members of the Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD) are as friendly, as personable and as human as any tour guide, professor or friend any Tech student knows.
According to Officer Charles Gaston, he and the other patrol officers begin their day with a briefing, where there supervisors discuss any new events or instructions for the officers on their upcoming shifts.
Afterwards, Gaston checks out his vehicle and begins his day of patrolling his “designated zones.” Gaston will work a twelve hour shift and end his day in the same place he began it. Gaston returns to the station and turns in both his vehicle and equipment.
Patrolling, according to Gaston, is anything but typical. He and the other patrol officers respond to every call that goes through GTPD, but the type of call varies greatly.
At times, Gaston assists the Atlanta Police Department in off campus areas.
“On a regular basis we get called on to respond to calls that could be extremely dangerous. Luckily, more often than not, they turn out to not be worst case scenario[s],” Gaston said.
But on that same day, Gaston could be alerted of something as common as a residence hall fire alarm.
“You think people would be better at not burning popcorn!” Gaston said.
In between traffic violations and thefts in Clough, Gaston uses his time to actively prevent crime.
“[I don’t] just take reports of crimes that have already happen,” Gaston said.
Much like the other 50 sworn patrol officers, Gaston spends much of his day searching for traffic violations. His goal, however, is not just to ticket students. He is keeping the campus safe.
“Campus has so many pedestrians; strict enforcement of traffic laws greatly helps improve public safety. People are actually much more likely to be injured or killed in a traffic accident than by being assaulted.”
Gaston finds the most challenging aspect of his work to be the “number of hats” he wears in a typical day, or rather, the number of roles he fulfills.
“Campus policing gives me the opportunity to interact more closely with the community that I serve,” Gaston said.
Gaston enjoys his ability to leave his patrol car, walk around campus and interact with the Tech community. But, he works diligently to balance his neighborly side with his responsibility to protect the community from harm.
Gaston works twelve hour shifts seven times every two weeks, which is equal to 182 work days or 2,184 hours a year spent patrolling. Those days, however, are not the only days Gaston works as a GTPD officer.
A day in the life of a GTPD officer often includes special events such as athletic events, homecoming receptions or simply extra patrol shifts. Gaston is a certified motorcycle officer and is proud to escort the home and visiting football teams.
“I personally work several hundred hours of overtime a year.”
Gaston is just one of the many GTPD officers who spend their day protecting the Tech community and while their basic duties stay the same, a typical day could bring in anything from traffic violations to an unthinkable crime.
Of all of his duties, Gaston is most proud of his ability to give back to the community that shaped him when he was an undergraduate at Tech.
“When I had the opportunity to come back to Tech, especially as a police officer, I had to take it.” Gaston said.