Chief writes last chapter in his police story

After 33 years of service Police Chief Harry Kleinkauf retires.

By: Matthew Kirdahy
   Police Chief Harry Kleinkauf’s last weeks as a Cranbury police officer were hardly different from any other time in his 33 years serving the small town — he just had some cleaning to do.
   His office, though small, housed years of memories of being the top cop in town. Police patches and photos decked the walls. Files and papers were stuffed in cabinets and shelves, and toy badges, key chains and other baubles jammed a drawer next to his desk.
   "I give those to the kids when they come in," the chief said. "I open the drawer and tell them to go in there and pick out what they want."
   He offered those prizes to Cranbury kids just as he offered his heart to the entire town. As Cranbury’s police chief, he doted on it and its 3,200 residents like he would a son or daughter.
   Now he has decided to walk away, taking with him years of memories, lifelong relationships with residents and colleagues and a couple of made-for-TV cop stories — including one involving a high-speed chase after the fatal shooting of a state trooper.
   Chief Kleinkauf told his story like it happened yesterday.
   It was the evening of May 7, 1984. He said the driver of a van had fatally shot Trooper Carlos Negron on the New Jersey Turnpike near Exit 8.
   "I heard on the radio, ‘officer down,’" Chief Kleinkauf said. "And you know when everyone hears that, they go."
   The chief heard over the radio that the two men, who were in the van, fled into the woods. One of the men was described as wearing a green T-shirt. The chief, who was a lieutenant at the time, had a hunch where the men might try to slip out of the trees. He parked his squad car on Cedarville Road in Hightstown — about five miles from Cranbury’s village.
   Moments later, two men, one wearing a green T-shirt, walked out of the woods right in front of Chief Kleinkauf’s idling squad car.
   He stepped out of the car and asked the men what they were doing, and they darted into the nearby Lawn Doctor building. The chief called in to the dispatcher that he had seen two men fitting the police description.
   Before backup arrived, a white van sped out of the Lawn Doctor parking lot. And so began the chase.
   Sirens blaring, the gas pedal to the floor, Chief Kleinkauf pursued the van at speeds nearing 100 mph. The chief wasn’t alone — other local officers followed suit.
   The chief found out later that the two men stole the van after holding the Lawn Doctor storeowner at gunpoint. The car chase took the police to Route 33 in Millstone.
   "Then I started to see the van fishtailing," Chief Kleinkauf said.
   The suspects lost control of the van and smashed into a roadside pole.
   "They just about hit the biggest utility pole I’ve ever seen," Chief Kleinkauf said. "One guy got pinned in the van while the other went flying through the windshield into the nearby potato field."
   Later, the chief received a letter from the superintendent of the New Jersey State Police thanking him for his help.
   "Both guys died as a result of the injuries," the chief said. "It was a quick ‘trial’ for them, and justice was served."
   But with every exciting high-speed chase story, a retiring, small town officer also has to have his cow-in-the-road story as well. "I remember the first accident I ever went to involved a car and a cow," Chief Kleinkauf said, laughing at thought of it. "That was when we had cows around here. It wandered out of pasture onto Plainsboro Road and a car hit it. The cow was fine and so was the driver, but the car wasn’t."
   Incidentally, the car and the animal had to be "towed" away. The farmer guided the cow back into the fields, the chief said.
   That happened in 1970, when Chief Kleinkauf first joined the Cranbury police force.
   Five years prior, he served as a Hightstown police officer. He became police chief of Cranbury in 1991 and officially announced his retirement last January.
   The township chose Capt. Jay Hanson to take the job as chief based on Chief Kleinkauf’s recommendation. The position pays $90,000. Lt. Ed Kahler will follow Capt. Hanson as captain. Chief Kleinkauf’s last day was Dec. 31, and the promotions are effective immediately.
   The chief has prepared for his retirement for almost a year. He built what he said is a more-than-capable management team to continue the quality service in Cranbury and maintain the 16-officer police force.
   But that doesn’t mean the chief is through participating.
   He will remain an active volunteer for the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, the Middlesex County Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 68.
   Chief Kleinkauf has attended many of the government programs offered by these organizations to high-ranking police officers to stay abreast of the latest law enforcement codes and regulations. He said that even though Cranbury is a small town, it has a lot in common with other municipalities — state and nationwide.
   "At those conventions we go over problems and work out solutions and all sorts of high-end supervisor training," the chief said. "It’s a group of high-end supervisors from all over the country. It’s amazing how close every other place is to being the same."
   For Cranbury, he said at least 40 percent of the crime comes from the warehouses east of Route 130, including thefts and stolen merchandise. He said the other 60 percent of the crime derives from motorists just passing through a little faster than usual.
   "Speeding is the number one problem in town and it will continue to be that way," Chief Kleinkauf said. "We issue 200 moving violation summonses a month."
   Formal police work aside, the chief reflected about what he’d miss most.
   "Well, I’m going to miss my people," he said. "I’ve always wanted to be there for them and I’ve done my best to be."
   Along with hanging up his badge, the chief will leave behind the smiling faces of the kids walking Main Street in the morning headed to school. He saw most of those kids over the years grow into adults.
   "We’ve had a very good working relationship with the Cranbury School," the chief said. "I love the programs that we have when the kids come up to you and tell you what a great time they had. It’s great when parents come up and say it. It creates an excellent rapport with families and you keep it so the kids don’t fear the officers."
   Even in his retirement, the chief’s days will still be filled with kids. He will spend them tending to his seven grandchildren, who all live in New Jersey and range in age from 6 to 15.
   The chief also plans to do what other retired people might do, like joining a gym and fishing. He said he might also visit a few of his favorite vacation spots in the tropics like the Bahamas, Bermuda or St. Thomas now that he has time.
   "I just love that turquoise water," he said.
   After all, Cranbury’s chief law enforcer could use a vacation, even though he’s been fortunate enough in all his years of police work to never have to draw or fire his gun. Either way, the work is tiring, and he said it’s time for a break.
   "This is the first New Year’s in a long time I can go out and not have to bring a pager or a phone," the chief said Dec. 16. "I’ll miss it. It was a good ride. If I would’ve taken notes for all the years I’ve been doing this, I could’ve written a best seller."