(The Center Square) – As a bill moves through the Missouri House of Representatives to return the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to state control, don’t expect an increased presence from the Missouri Highway Patrol.
If House Bill 702, sponsored by Rep. Brad Christ, R-St. Louis, becomes law, it would return the St. Louis force to a state-appointed board on Aug. 28. Approximately 10 years ago, the state turned over control to the city. When crime spiked a few years ago in St. Louis, additional Highway Patrol coverage was assigned to the city.
During the last few weeks, two incidents of violent crime in downtown generated significant attention from citizens and the legislature. In late February, a 21-year-old male released on bond for a charge of first-degree robbery and armed criminal action drove through downtown and struck a 17-year-old female volleyball player from Tennessee. Court records show he violated his bond dozens of times. The female, who was in town for a tournament, was pinned by the vehicle and surgeons amputated her legs.
Earlier this week, a video was posted on social media showing a man loading a handgun and shooting another man in the head during mid-morning as he sat on a downtown sidewalk.
On Thursday, just a few blocks from both crime incidents, Missouri Director of Public Safety Sandy Karsten said the Highway Patrol’s current staffing shortages would leave counties outside of St. Louis underserved if more resources were devoted to the city.
“I’ve been asked that a lot and one of the things I want to highlight is the comments made about the patrol coming in and patrolling the interstates,” Karsten said in an interview with The Center Square after joining Republican Gov. Mike Parson for a ceremonial bill signing to give state employees an 8.7% salary increases. “The patrol has never been staffed to cover the interstates in St. Louis city. And so when we ask for people to come in, we’re taking them from other areas of the state or from other areas of Troop C.”
Troop C serves Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, Perry, Pike, St. Charles, St. Francois, St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve, Warren and Washington counties in eastern Missouri.
Karsten said the Highway Patrol is currently short approximately 130 troopers.
“We’re experiencing staffing shortages just like other agencies,” said Karsten, referring to the state’s 7,000 job vacancies. “And so you’re pulling away from what they’re doing in rural Missouri to come here.”
Depending on staffing levels, Karsten said the Highway Patrol may be spotted on interstates, but it’s not currently happening on a regular basis.
Karsten was appointed to her position by Parson in 2018 after serving as the superintendent of the Highway Patrol. She was the first woman appointed to serve as the director of the Department of Public Safety. After joining the Highway Patrol in 1985, she earned every rank from trooper to becoming the first woman to be named a colonel.
“I think public safety is best when everyone does their job, performs their role, plays their position, whatever you want to call it,” Karsten said. “And it all impacts public safety in a positive way. That can be the trooper on the road stopping a speeder, that can be the trooper on the road giving a warning to a speeder. But it’s also more than just troopers and law enforcement.”