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story.lead_photo.caption Director of Public Safety Sandy Karsten poses for a photo at the Public Safety Department. Photo by Mark Wilson / News Tribune.

Sandra Karsten is learning her third job in less than two years.

On Feb. 1, 2017, then-Gov. Eric Greitens promoted Karsten to the superintendent's job, from second-in-command on the Highway Patrol's headquarters staff.

Then this past August, new Gov. Mike Parson asked her to become director of Missouri's Public Safety Department.

"It was very hard to make that decision," she said. "When he approached me about it, I certainly was not planning my departure from the patrol at that time.

"So, I thought about it — and it all got down to, I couldn't turn down Gov. Parson. He's a great person, a person of character, and when he asked me to step up to this position, I just couldn't say no."

Karsten, now 55, served in the Missouri Highway Patrol for just shy of 33 years, and often has told the story of how she became a trooper.

On the day Greitens announced her promotion, Karsten told the patrol's recruit class she was 17 when she "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 (and) I was so impressed that I wanted to be a part of that organization."

She said last month, "I miss being a road trooper. I miss the contact with the public, but I'm finding that I have those opportunities in other ways, in this office as well as when you move up in the ranks in the patrol."

During her entire career, the Highway Patrol has been a part of the state's Public Safety Department, but Karsten said being part of one of the department's eight agencies means she has much to learn about the other seven.

In addition to the patrol, there's Capitol Police, Alcohol and Tobacco Control, the Missouri National Guard, the State Emergency Management Agency, and two agencies directed by commissions — the Veterans Commission and the Gaming Commission.

"It's a different job," she observed. "With the patrol, the focus was on all the responsibilities that the patrol has been tasked with over the years.

"There's a lot more to (Public Safety), especially in the director's office, than many people recognize, including me as the (patrol's) colonel."

So her first months on the new job have included a lot of visiting — going to agencies, spending time with the division directors and trying "to familiarize myself with as many of those activities as I can (to) 'observe on the floor' some of the happenings."

Just as one example, Karsten said: "I knew that the Department of Public Safety handled the Crime Victims Compensation Program, but I didn't know the degree to which they're involved with that program and what that really means to people who have experienced trauma or being victimized in Missouri."

Karsten said Missourians should understand "there's a lot of coordination and collaboration that occurs between those (eight) DPS divisions. We may not be touting our horn and, maybe, people don't realize it, but we do touch many areas," including elevator inspections and amusement rides' compliance with state safety regulations.

"DPS is made up of great professionals," Karsten added. "They're all committed to their mission (and) want to do what's right by the state of Missouri."

For example, lessons the Highway Patrol learned after the May 2011 tornado that killed more than 160 people helped investigators identify the victims of this year's Duck Boat tragedy at Branson, where 17 were killed when the boat was swamped during a storm.

As she has with numerous previous jobs, Karsten said, she asked someone else — in this case, the Office of Administration — to look at how previous directors had run the Public Safety Department, before her appointment.

Some of the things OA found prompted Karsten to ask Parson for a state auditor's probe, and Nicole Galloway said her staff would take a look.

Some have speculated Karsten wanted the auditor to look directly at the work of Drew Juden, who was Greitens' pick for Public Safety director and served from early 2017 until Parson asked him to leave last August.

"This is not an 'I gotcha,'" Karsten said. "This is, 'What do we have and how can we improve upon it?' On this one, I felt like I needed some assistance on the financial side — that's not been my experience in the patrol. I certainly was involved in that from the budget level in the colonel's seat, but I did feel like we needed some people to give it a closer examination."

And, even without that report being finished, Karsten said: "I think I have a pretty good idea what the first problems (for the department) are — it's always funding and time."

The Highway Patrol has a mandatory retirement at 60 requirement, but Karsten was 54 when she retired in August.

"I never planned to work (there) until I was 60," she said. "When this opportunity was presented to me, I knew it could be two years, or four or five. Or it could be one.

"I'm happy to serve where Gov. Parson has a need for me to be, and whatever happens after that, I'll just thank the good Lord for the blessings that have been bestowed on me and enjoy retirement."

Her husband, Tim Karsten (they've been married since 1991), retired from teaching in the Blair Oaks School District in 2017, "so there's a lot of activities that we would like to do together but — because I'm still working — we have to put those off for a time when I can take off."

She wants people to understand "that I care about serving Missouri (and) about safety — whether it's on the highways or it's fire safety — there are lessons that we can take from that and make our family safer. And when we do that, we're impacting people in a positive way."

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