EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a series featuring local law-enforcement officers. Today’s article focuses on a Kansas Highway Patrol (KHP) master trooper.
James Robinson was driving west on 17thStreet in Hutchinson in his patrol car when he noticed a white Ford F 150 without brake lights.
Little did he know he was about to stop a motorist “who did not want to go back to prison; he wanted to shoot a cop.”
Robinson was a Hutchinson police officer at the time. Today, the Great Bend native is a Kansas Highway Patrol master trooper.
As Robinson recently thought back on that April 2005 brake-light incident, he said he was suspicious right away but there wasn’t much he could do about it.
“I just wanted to tell him his brake lights weren’t working,” Robinson recalled. “It was a male driver and a female passenger who was sitting close to him.
“After I stopped the truck, she scooted all the way over on the passenger side,” he continued. “He was moving around a lot and checking his side mirror to see where I was; all this definitely raised my suspicions. As I walked toward the truck, he shot me.”
The driver, who used a 9 mm handgun, was still in the truck at the time of the shooting. Robinson suffered a wound to his left leg, below the knee.
The bullet entered the front of his leg and went out the back. He was treated and released from the emergency room; recovery took more than two weeks.
“All I have now is a scar but the bullet missed a nerve by about a millimeter; I could have been disabled,” Robinson said. “The driver was a parolee wanted in Texas for robbery, with a long prison sentence ahead of him. He was a member of the Texas Aryan Nation prison gang.”
This incident might have caused Robinson to reconsider his career choice. It had the opposite effect.
“Being a victim didn’t change my feelings about being in law enforcement,” the master trooper said. “In fact, it emboldened my position about why I got into this in the first place – to protect and serve.”
Robinson learned the protect-and-serve motto early in life. His dad, Bob Robinson, served the Great Bend Police Department for 38 years before his recent retirement.
“I knew from a young age I wanted to do this,” he said. “Growing up, I knew a lot of officers and specifically remember interacting with state troopers. I noticed how they presented themselves. It was kind of like the Marines – the few, the proud.”
Robinson comes by the comparison honestly. After graduating from Great Bend High School in 1997 and attending Barton Community College for a couple of years, Robinson joined the Marine Corps. He served in Charlie Company, 1stBattalion, 2ndMarines, and was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; he served in the Pacific Rim and Central and South America.
He was discharged after four years and started his stint at the Hutchinson Police Department in October 2002. He then joined the KHP in January 2008. Robinson and four other troopers regularly patrol Barton, Rice and Stafford counties; however, a trooper’s jurisdiction is statewide.
The application process for a prospective trooper takes roughly six months and entails multiple interviews; polygraph and psychological testing; and financial and criminal background checks.
Training at the Troop J Academy in Salina takes nearly six months and “is pretty close to military-type training,” said Robinson, who started his KHP career in Wichita.
“In metro areas, troopers handle a lot of accidents and DUIs,” Robinson said. “In rural areas, while our primary focus is traffic, we do get involved in criminal investigations by helping local police departments and sheriffs’ offices.
“People think troopers just sit on the highways, setting up speed traps and writing as many tickets as we possibly can,” he laughed. “There is so much more to it.”
For example, the KHP offers many job opportunities. These include: motor carrier enforcement for commercial vehicles; task forces associated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security; the Motor Carrier Safety Alliance Program; fixed-wing and rotary aircraft; K-9 units; and the Critical Highway Accident Response Team.
“All my peers, in whatever job they are performing, are a great group of professionals,” he noted. “They are great to work with.”
The KHP dispatch center in Salina is in constant contact with troopers who are also equipped with radios for easy communication with local agencies.
“We are always eager to help local officers when we can,” Robinson commented. “It could be anything from a homicide to a missing person to a robbery to a gas skip. If I am nearby, I will swing by to see if I can help.”
While there are many rewards that come with serving the public, there are other aspects that can haunt an officer. The worst job for Robinson is notifying family members that a traffic accident has claimed a loved one’s life.
“When you knock on someone’s door, that is the hardest thing, at least for me. You knock, and they see you and the uniform. They think they know what is coming. And, sadly, lots of times they are right.”
The spotlight on negative law-enforcement incidents around the country has had an effect locally, Robinson said.
“Most people in our area have a very high regard for law enforcement - even if they get a ticket. Others don’t like us and let us know from the get-go.
“There are even those that say ‘please don’t kill me’ when we have to stop them for an infraction. I hear this from all races of people. The misconception is that law enforcement is out to use force, deadly force. The reality is totally opposite.
“I have been shot and involved in a lot of incidents. But I have never discharged my weapon on the job.”