Missouri State Highway Patrol acting superintendent reflects on changes in Highway Patrol, society

Missouri LTC reflection

Minutes after being named as the Missouri Highway Patrol's next superintendent, Lt. Col. Sandra Karsten last Wednesday told the 29 members of the current recruit class: "The Patrol is a great organization — I've had a passion for it since I was 17 years old."  Karsten, 53, will be the 23rd superintendent — and the first woman to be appointed to head the now-85-year-old Patrol.  She holds the job on an "acting" basis until she is confirmed by the Missouri Senate — with her confirmation hearing to be scheduled during this legislative session.  "I have an older brother and grew up on a farm, and anything he could do, I could do," she said, explaining her initial interest in the Patrol and a law enforcement career.  "I attended the program by the American Legion Cadet Patrol Academy, here (at General Headquarters) — it's a week for 16- to 18-year-olds, and they introduce you to recruit training.  "I was so impressed that I wanted to be a part of that organization."  But first, after graduating from high school, Karsten went to Truman State University, graduating in May 1985 with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.  She joined the Highway Patrol in September 1985 and began training with the other new recruits of the 57th Recruit Class — 11 years after the first women had attended the Patrol Academy.  (The current group is the 104th Recruit Class).  Since joining the Patrol, Karsten also has earned a master's degree in public administration from the University of Missouri.  After graduating from the Patrol Academy, she was assigned to road duties in Callaway and Audrain counties — and noted the technology used by the Patrol today is far-advanced from what was available 31 years ago.  "When I came on, we had a high- and a low-band radio," she recalled.  "Now we have a digital system" as well as the use of cellphones and computers in cars.  "It's just amazing how much technology is in the cars now," she said.  She also pointed to engineering changes — like median cable barriers on interstate highways and primary routes like U.S. 63 — that have occurred over the years.  Big changes also have occurred in personnel policies, she reported — and she helped the Patrol develop some of them.  "When I became pregnant the first time, there was no policy on what to do with a pregnant trooper," Karsten recalled.  "So, through the course of my pregnancy, I was able to develop a policy.  "It's a temporary condition — it doesn't last forever, thank goodness — so we were able to treat it as that."  Yes, she acknowledged — the Patrol didn't have a policy for dealing with pregnant employees, even though she wasn't the first woman to work for the agency.  "How they dealt with it with the first women was," Karsten explained, "she knew, 'If I get pregnant, I have to stop working for the Patrol.'  "We even had that in the 1960s and early '70s — that many of our civilian employees, when they became pregnant, had to stop working for the Patrol until the pregnancy was concluded."  Today, the new superintendent said, the Patrol has changed a great deal.  "We're very inclusive of all people, now — whether it's a mom, a dad, a partner or whatever the case may be," Karsten said. "I think this signifies how we have grown as an organization."  While society has changed, she acknowledged many women still face choices and decisions men usually don't have to make.  "In the Patrol, we have so many opportunities, career-wise, that as a mother I had to look at some of those whenever we had children — was it going to be conducive for me to continue working the road?" Karsten explained.  "And it was!  "I had very supportive supervisors (and) very supportive lieutenants, and since then, I came off the road and we had another child. And that support continued."   When asked what advice she might offer to women working in a male-dominated industry, she told reporters: "Sometimes, you've got to figure out how to navigate in a male-dominated profession — sometimes with a sense of humor, sometimes with your proper attitude.  "What I have found, though, is that my husband was the greatest partner I could choose, and he has been very supportive.  "I would be very careful in selecting your life-mates, is my advice."