Ohio Highway Patrol (OHP) Lt. Robert Ashenfelter believes his career choice in law enforcement — not unlike others in his field — is a calling.
The 53-year-old commander of the patrol’s Defiance post on Baltimore Road has been a law enforcement officer for 21 years, following a stint in a family-owned landscape company. He’s served fully four years in the position, his highest since joining the OHP in 1998.
“From the time I was a little kid I felt this pull toward this line of work,” said Ashenfelter, a Perrysburg resident. “... I really feel this job has been a calling for me, and I would say most people serving in law enforcement or in public service believe it is probably some sort of calling for them. I take each day as God gives it to me and take it as a blessing I am to able to do this.”
But it took him a little while to get to his preferred professional path — once the choice was made.
He recalled that he took the necessary testing for the OHP in 1991, but an absence of openings meant he wasn’t able to enroll in the state police academy class until 1998.
“It is a selective process to get in,” he explained.
Following his academy graduation in 1998, Ashenfelter got his start as a trooper with the OHP’s Toledo post. A Toledo native and graduate of Perrysburg High School, Ashenfelter patrolled the main thoroughfares in Fulton and Lucas counties for about 2 1/2 years before being invited to join the OHP’s investigative services division in Findlay.
From December 2002 until June 2006 in that position, Ashenfelter acquired many job skills with which most troopers won’t become that familiar. Unlike many states, the OHP’s primary responsibility is to patrol roads, not handle investigations, but that’s not the case for this particular division.
While there, Ashenfelter helped investigate crimes on state-owned or leased property, “or other major crimes we find along the highway.” This included the state’s prison system.
As this responsibility suggests, he delved into a wide variety of crimes ranging from theft and human trafficking to murder, and everything in between.
“I’ve rescued human trafficking victims,” Ashenfelter said of his time in the division where he was a trained interviewer. “People suffer (as victims) of a lot of crimes. It always feels good to bring closure to people’s lives.”
In 2006, he returned to the road with the OHP’s Ohio Turnpike post in Swanton for a brief stint before being promoted in August 2008 to assistant commander at the Bowling Green post, responsible for Henry and Wood counties.
A promotion to supervisor for the investigative services division brought him back to Findlay in February 2011, where he stayed until November 2015, but then was promoted to lieutenant and commander of Defiance’s post, responsible for the main roads in Defiance and Williams counties.
Well versed from his two-plus decades in law enforcement — he is a trained police instructor and crash reconstructionist in addition to his training in specific crime detection — Ashenfelter oversees a staff of 12 troopers, four sergeants and one clerk at the post, located between two interchanges accessing U.S. 24.
One focus for him is making sure his staff and the equipment they rely on is functioning at the highest level “so we are ready to respond. We always have to be prepared. We’re always trying to stay ahead of current trends. ... We try each and every day to increase our quality.”
Although there can be a negative connotation for motorists when it comes to the OHP, whose troopers may stop them for a traffic issue, Ashenfelter emphasizes the positive outcomes.
“If you find one of our troopers at the side of the window, they are there to correct your behavior, make you aware of a safety issue ...,” he said. “I want them to stop people and educate them to be able to make that positive impact. We want to talk to people, so people see us as human and we can relate to them.”
He also takes his safety mission to heart, noting that his post is “constantly” evaluating crash data and where they occur so he can “direct our troopers and sergeants to areas where we’re having the issues. We use statistics. We use caller complaints. We use traffic volume. ... We need to know where we need to put our people to help save lives.”
But despite those efforts, he notes the toughest part of the job — notifying family members following a traffic fatality that “their son, their brother, their sister, is not coming home because they caused their own death or somebody caused theirs.” It’s “by far the worst and the hardest part of the job” that he said he has “done so many times in my career.”
Ashenfelter’s religious faith — he belongs to Zoar Lutheran Church in Perrysburg — no doubt is helpful in meeting challenges like that.
“I pray every day with my wife (Cecilia),” he said. “We have a strong running faith in our family. It’s a tough life, but we know there’s a reason for it and a higher calling for us, and God has a plan for us ... .”
Ashenfelter and Cecilia — employed by Bowling Green State University — have three adult daughters. And while he is happy as Defiance’s post commander, Ashenfelter is open about what the future may hold, noting that he would at least consider a professional move if asked by the OHP’s leader, Col. Richard Fambro.
“I am perfectly happy here, but when we get the opportunity for advancement ... we serve at the will of the (OHP) colonel,” explained Ashenfelter. “At this moment if he were to call and ask that I take a promotion elsewhere I would have to consider it.”
He adds that he was “perfectly happy” about his other positions in the OHP, and considers all of them a “blessing.”
As for his job generally, Ashenfelter noted a “sense of pride and sense of accomplishment.”
“There’s daily frustration as well,” he said, but added, “I’ve always felt protected by God, no matter whatever I’ve done. It’s always given me the sense to do what I do, because there’s some scary stuff that goes on with the job. Every time you kiss your wife and tell your kids goodbye, you don’t know if it’s the last time you see them.”