Diversity In The Highway Patrol


From interstate crashes to state emergencies, Highway Patrol troopers are always among the first to respond. Now the South Dakota Highway Patrol is looking for more troopers. The HP is looking all over for new applicants, but also wants to diversify its ranks. In the last few years, it has made an effort to recruit more women.

“So, this is where I spend most of my time when I’m out flying for the Highway Patrol,” Trooper Sarah Schumacher said. 

Schumacher was never satisfied just being on the ground. 

“This is what tells you your aircraft heading, aircraft altitude,” Schumacher said about the plane she flies. 

That’s why she studied aviation, became a pilot, a certified flight instructor, a multi-engine instructor, and joined the South Dakota Highway Patrol in 2016. 

“I can work with our drone operators to help them understand things they might not understand, like about airspace or about weather forecasting, because I have a background in that and they don’t,” Schumacher said. 

“Most of the time, people don’t slow down to a reasonable speed when it’s icy or snowy out,” Trooper Brynn Rist said. 

Rist studied criminal justice in college, and also joined the HP in 2016. Following in her grandpa’s footsteps is what put Rist in the driver’s seat. 

“I just spoke with a lady that was crying because she went in the ditch and she didn’t know what to do and so, when you can show up and help someone, it just kind of makes you feel good,” Rist said. 

The Highway Patrol hired Schumacher and Rist because they are qualified, determined, and made it through the typical 13 weeks of training. They just happen to be women.

“Growing up, I didn’t really have anyone that was a female in law enforcement, because it’s not — I guess — a very female-dominant job,” Rist said. 

“Older men and women sometimes ask me, I’ve had a lot of older women ask me, they’re like, ‘does your husband know you do this and is he ok with it?'” Schumacher said. 

In the last few years, the Highway Patrol has tried to change this by recruiting more women. It started seminars in 2015, to achieve this. Last year, we reported there were 13 female troopers. This year, there are 14 women out of a little more than 190 troopers in the state.

“We have our own kind of club, because we’re outnumbered by the guys right now and so it’s really great because if we have a problem we can go to one of the other women and say, ‘hey, is this something you’ve had a problem with?'” Schumacher said. 

Right now, HP is hiring again, and the goal is to find the most qualified applicants, but there’s always the desire to add new troopers of different genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds.

“We’re just looking for more diversity in general. It doesn’t matter what gender you are or what your background is, we just want strong applicants,” Rist said. 

“We’re always hiring the top candidate, so if we can find that top candidate with diversity that’s what we’re looking for,” Sgt. Josh Olson said. 

Brady Mallory: Still, maybe in this region, the idea of law enforcement is still a white man. Does that prevent any challenges?

Sgt. Olson: “The challenge might be there, for us, it’s making sure we get the word and make sure we have boots on the ground out there actively recruiting,” Olson said.  

Schumacher says different backgrounds are important because they bring new ideas and solutions to keep you safe. 

“We’re the ones who are going to be running the organization, so it’s good for us to be able to get in, see how things work and understand the culture and then figure out what we think needs to change and go out and change it,” Schumacher said. 

As for the future, Schumacher says her seven-year-old niece wants to be a pilot. Schumacher hopes having this job inspires her to go for it. 

“If I can do anything in my life that makes the path for them easier, for them to be able to walk that path without some of the setbacks I’ve had in my life, then I will do absolutely anything,” Schumacher said. 

Leave it to a pilot to give future generations wings. 

Applications are now being accepted for the Patrol’s next hiring period. Deadline to apply is Feb. 28. Recruiting seminars for women interested in joining the Highway Patrol will be held later this month in Aberdeen, Rapid City, Pierre, Sioux Falls and Watertown. Additional details on those seminars will be announced at a later date. People with questions about the hiring process can call the Highway Patrol Training Division at 605-773-2231.

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