For new Troop B commander, service and traffic safety are priorities
RAY BROOK — Maj. Ruben Oliver says customer service and traffic safety are his top priorities as commander of the New York State Police Troop B.
“There’s nothing too small for us,” he said in an interview June 4 at the Troop B headquarters in Ray Brook. “We’ll always send somebody. We’ll always investigate.
“We are a service industry.”
NYC to Indian Lake
Oliver has spent most of his career in Troop B, but he was born and raised in New York City, where his father was a city police officer. When he was 7, his family moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island, which perhaps was a bit of foreshadowing for how his life would go.
“At that time, in the early ’70s, going from Brooklyn to Staten Island, that was a big deal. Essentially that was moving to the country,” he said. “It’s not like that now, but at the time it really was. … There was a block of 12 homes, and that was it, but across the street was woods and fields and ponds and stuff.”
He also remembered, as a child, seeing uncles and cousins in uniform at his grandmother’s house. He later learned they were going to or coming from the war in Vietnam. Something about that stuck with him, and after a year of college, he joined the Marine Corps from 1984 to 1988. Shortly after that, he started at the State Police academy. Upon graduating in 1989, his first assignment was Troop B — specifically, Tupper Lake and Indian Lake.
“I went from one extreme to another,” he said.
When he arrived, he remembers asking, as another trooper drove him through Tupper Lake, “Where is Tupper Lake?”
“He said, ‘You’re in Tupper Lake.’ I go, ‘This is Tupper Lake?’ and he goes, ‘Yeah.’ I wasn’t used to things being that small like that. I didn’t know things like this still existed.”
It was a shock, but “a pleasant shock,” and “now I’m very acclimated to it,” he said.
“When I do go back home — I have a sister who still lives there — I don’t like being in crowds anymore. I actually prefer this environment.”
Meanwhile, as a young trooper he met a young woman who was born and raised Indian Lake, and now they live there with their two daughters.
“Have to be self-reliant”
Except for a year in the Hudson Valley from 1999 to 2000, Oliver served in Troop B for two decades from 1989 to 2009, including a stint as Tupper Lake-Indian Lake station commander from 2001 to 2008. For the last 11 years, though, he’s been working in the Albany area, in fields ranging from emergency management to the academy to human resources. Indian Lake was his home throughout it all, though.
“I think Troop B is one of the last places in the state where a traditional trooper still exists,” he said. By that, he said he means that troopers are the primary law-enforcement agency, whereas in much of the state they share the jurisdiction with county and city officers.
“A B trooper has to be very self-reliant, in that what he has on his gun belt or in his car or between his ears is what matters, because you may not have backup, or your backup might be a considerable time away. So you have to have the wherewithal to operate independently and to make smart decisions and to be careful.”
Service and safety
As the primary responders, troopers up here also get a lot of seemingly small calls, but Oliver emphasizes that they will respond to all of them.
“If it’s important to you, it’s going to be important to us,” he said. “There’s nothing that’s too insignificant for us.
“Even things that aren’t police matters, we’re still going to send someone. We’re still going to vet the information, and if we can help in some way … we’re still going to try to do that, or at least point you in the right direction. The one thing I don’t ever want to tell you is, ‘There’s nothing I can do for you.'”
In addition to general customer service, traffic safety is Oliver’s other top priority.
“We can’t eliminate risk, but we try to make it where all these little rules you abide by — wearing a seat belt, traveling at a safe speed, and everything that you do in life — you do with the purpose to increase the likelihood that you’re going to come home safe,” he said.
Pressure on police
There is a lot of public pressure on police these days, with protesters in Adirondack villages and American cities decrying police brutality against black people after George Floyd died while a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
“All police, we’re all accountable to the public for our actions,” Oliver said. “That always has been the case, and it always will be.
“Right now there are sentiments about injustice to persons of color, and if it’s something that is important to them, we have to at least look at it. We have to understand it. If there (are) police reforms that are coming … we have to make en effort to understand why. What is causing things to go sideways?”
He said it’s also important to think about what is going through a police officer’s mind in any encounter when deadly physical force is used, and he said he hopes lawmakers keep that in mind as they consider police reform measures. He declined to comment on any specific legal proposals.
One case haunts him
The one case he can’t forget is the 1993 disappearance of 12-year-old Sara Ann Wood from her rural home in Central New York. Lewis Lent Jr. confessed to killing her — he also confessed kidnapping and murdering 12-year-old Jimmy Bernardo of Pittsfield, Massachusetts — but her body was never found. Oliver was a young trooper when he was assigned to look for her in Raquette Lake.
“We responded to a place where we thought he might have secreted the body, and naively I thought we were going to move a bunch of snow out of the way, and there she’d be,” he said. “Months and months and months and months — it was a very, very cold, cold winter. It was 30 below zero at night; I remember that. … It was like hip-deep snow.
“That had a profound effect on a lot of us: a young girl, 12, abducted, and the manner in which she was killed really disturbed a lot of us. And that’s something that haunts me. I wish we had found her.
“Those are the ones that really hurt, those ones that we can’t find closure on.”
Asked to describe himself, he mentioned integrity and humility. He said it’s important for a leader to be humble.
“If you’re not humble, you’re going to have a hard time learning new things,” he said.