Governor Mike Parson, R, announced retiring Missouri State Highway Patrol Superintendent Sandra Karsten as the new Director of Public Safety Monday.
She’ll take over September 1st for outgoing Director Drew Juden who was dismissed by Parson and will leave the position August 31st. While announcing Juden’s departure on August 17th, Parson stated that he had asked Karsten to serve as the interim Public Safety Director.
Karsten will step down from her role leading the State Highway Patrol at the end of the month. Her interim status with the Department of Public Safety remains in place pending confirmation by the State Senate to head the agency. Parson didn’t specify at what point he had decided that Karsten would be his choice to permanently fill the position.
The governor says he will select a new Highway Patrol Superintendent but declined to give a timeframe for that announcement Monday, acknowledging that he hadn’t decided on a choice.
Parson’s spokeswoman Kelli Jones told Missourinet the governor replaced Juden at the helm of the Public Safety Department because he “wanted to go in a different direction”. Monday Parson told reporters he was confident Karsten would take the agency to the next level.
“I’m real familiar with working with her,” said Parson. “I think some of the things she brings to the table will be some strong points when we start talking about outreach to other communities. Dealing with the crime rate here in Missouri will be a top priority. Her relationships she’s had inside this building for many years I think will just be pluses.”
Juden had been chosen to lead the Public Safety Department in 2017 by former Governor Eric Greitens. Greitens, who resigned from office amid numerous controversies on June 1st of this year, also chose Karsten to front the State Highway Patrol. He selected her on February 1st, 2017 as the first-ever woman to serve as leader during the agency’s 85-year history.
Karsten will leave after 33 years of service with the patrol. She told reporters Monday she was drawn to the agency at the age of 17 while attending a week-long American Legion Cadet Patrol Academy in Jefferson City.
“By the time that week was over, I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” said Karsten. “I wanted to serve as a Missouri State Trooper. I wanted to be a part of a team that serves the public, that responds to emergencies, and I wanted to make a difference.”
The Department of Public Safety is organized into nine separate functional agencies, which includes the State Highway Patrol. Karsten stated it has a total of more than 15,000 employees.
Public Safety has the fourth highest payroll in the state at $229,335,179, which accounts for roughly 11% of the total wages paid out. A sergeant in the department can make as much as $106,559 per year.
Parson said there was no plan in place to alter the current setup in which the Highway Patrol handles the state’s Water Patrol, although he indicated conversations regarding such a change are possible.
Questions about the arrangement surfaced after the 2014 drowning death of an Iowa man on the Lake of the Ozarks. 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson, who had been arrested on suspicion of boating while intoxicated, fell overboard while handcuffed in an unsecured life jacket and drowned.
Governor Parson was asked whether the Public Safety Department would take a role in attempting to curb gun violence in St. Louis and Kansas City during his news conference with reporters. He stated that Karsten would be in contact with government and law enforcement personnel in the two cities and said collaboration on the issue is possible.
“I’ve been pretty open all along,” Parson said. “I’m a very strong supporter of the second amendment. But I also realize at times if there are ways we can do things better, then I’ll look at that.”
St. Louis and Kansas City typically rank high for crime, notably violent crime, among U.S. cities.
According to Colonel Karsten, once she takes over at the Public Safety Department September 1st, her position as Superintendent with the State Highway Patrol falls to the Lieutenant Colonel, Eric Olson, until the governor selects a new colonel.