You see, in my rear view mirror was an Ohio State Highway Patrol cruiser, the OSHP, if you will.
Why did I panic?
I was going the speed limit, not texting – at that particular moment. It’s a joke. I had my seat belt fastened, no pot in the car – that would be a different story if it were 1983 … again, I joke. Then why was I acting so guilty?
Human nature, I guess. But what’s it like for the men and women of the OSHP? You know, a typical day? Or is there such a thing? And does it include laughing at me because I’m freaking out?
My assignment is to find out.
A friend of mine – who I’ve known for years working in local TV news – is Sgt. Jeff Kramer, Dayton Post of the OSHP. I’ve interviewed Jeff many times on accident scenes, safety issues and the like. He’s the perfect person to get a perspective from a patrolman’s point of view.
And on a recent ride-along I got it.
The Desert Storm veteran has been patrolling the highways of the Miami Valley ever since a life changing moment while traveling from Virginia to his home in Columbus, Ohio.
“Well, I may have been going a little too fast and was pulled over by an OSHP Trooper,” Kramer said. “Turned out he served on the same ship as me in the navy, had a great connection, but I still got a ticket. I thought the way he handled himself, his professionalism and politeness, that’s what I wanted to do.”
But it wasn’t a straight road to the patrol. A few curves ahead.
“I did some internships, worked for a couple of small police departments and a few jails – no, Buch, as a deputy, not an inmate – but I kept thinking about that patrolman and decided that’s what I wanted to do,” Kramer added.
Now, 17 years later, Kramer is a veteran of the patrol and has seen and experienced just about everything you can on an interstate highway. And, contrary to popular belief, they do much more than cite you for speeding, occasionally even changing a tire or two for stranded motorists.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s dangerous and the majority of patrolman killed in the line of duty are crash related,” Kramer said. “Ninety-five percent of officers killed involve getting hit on the side of the road or in their cruisers.”
You’ve heard it a million times – when you see flashing lights, move over if you’re able and slow down. The married father of three would like to come home to his family.
So, what’s changed in 17 years since he’s been patrolling?
“Not a lot,” Kramer said with a laugh. “[There have] always been distractions in cars, now with cell phones. Back then, you were rocking your 8-track tapes. Drugs have been there, but the biggest thing is the technology that’s changed for us at the OSHP, the instant knowledge we receive. Guys that retired ten years ago would have a difficult time surviving.”
So, what’s the worst part of the job?
“The tragedy, every horrifying crash we handle is someone that made a bad decision for the most part and it’s tough to make a notification to a family that a loved one has passed,” said Kramer. “It sticks with you forever.”
And what’s the best?
“Meeting lots of interesting people that appreciate the sacrifices that police officers make, go to schools, meet kids, visit hospitals,” Kramer said. “I like to talk to the public and it’s interesting where people come from, what they do. It’s pretty amazing how people open up with the uniform on.”
Sad part is, the only time we interact with troopers is when we’re pulled over for speeding that some say is revenue enhancement for state coffers. Kramer begged to differ.
“We’re not out here nickel and diming people for a few miles over the speed limit, we’re out here to get the aggressive and dangerous drivers, the ones that potentially will cause crashes,” Kramer explained. “But it’s amazing when we do pull people over on how they’re driving, they’re mad at me.”
No, they’re mad because they got caught.
Among Jeff’s many duties is spokesman for the media.
“I like to utilize them for our benefit as well and when we reach the masses on messages like ‘don’t drink and drive,’ preach about safety or just be a reminder to wear your seat belt. Maybe we can save a life,” he said.
You can tell that Jeff is pretty easy going and a people person, but don’t let that fool you.
BUCH: “So the next time someone gets pulled over, they should strike up a conversation and maybe get out of a citation?”
KRAMER: “No, only if I start talking, only if I ask. Don’t start talking. Especially you, Buch.”
I think he just took a shot.
And with that, I think I’ll shut up.
Hats off to Sgt. Jeff Kramer and the men and women of the Ohio State Highway Patrol who keep law and order on our Ohio highways.