Children and vulnerable adults in trouble and teens who ran afoul of the law found a tenacious yet empathetic advocate in Susan Carstens.
In her 35 years as a juvenile specialist for the Crystal Police Department, Carstens was tireless in her efforts to connect children and families to the help they needed, frequently going above and beyond her 40-hour workweek to make their lives better and head off problems. In 2013, she received statewide recognition in the form of the Minnesota Association of Women Police Excellence in Support Award.
“Susan’s service was to our most vulnerable citizens and she served in exceptional fashion,” said Crystal Police Chief Stephanie Revering. “Susan’s extensive network of contacts throughout the statewide law enforcement community is mourning the loss of one of the state’s greatest crime prevention and intervention experts.”
Carstens died July 23 of ovarian cancer.
Carstens joined the Crystal Police Department in 1980 and dedicated her career to keeping kids on the straight and narrow, said her sister Kellie Robbins, of Minneapolis. She fought truancy and spent countless hours visiting schools to teach students how to be safe and make them feel comfortable with police.
“She loved the kids and they loved her,” said Ken Varnold, a retired Crystal Police sergeant who worked with Carstens for more than 20 years. “She had a good bond with the kids. She was a good public servant, a really strong advocate for the community.”
Carstens was well known for the shoplifting seminars she put on for first-time juvenile offenders and their parents. The sessions were designed to prevent teens from entering the court system down the road. Carstens heard years later from some participants, who thanked her for intervening when they had taken their missteps.
“She did a great job with that, and in many cases it worked,” said retired detective Steve Sandwick. “She was a true professional who put her heart into her work more than anyone could imagine. She cared so much for kids and families. She was a parent to everybody.”
Besides helping provide services to homeless people, Carstens coordinated the city’s “Dinner at Your Door” deliveries and arranged for snow shoveling for the elderly. She was a knowledgeable resource and the “go-to” person for officers investigating touchy cases of child abuse and neglect, Revering said. She coordinated the Hennepin County Juvenile Advisory Council and knew the importance of working with other agencies. She used her connections to get victims into the city, county and state social outreach programs they needed.
“Her demeanor with families was friendly, not confrontational, and it was often well-received by the frightened and angry families we met with,” said Don Bartley, a retired Hennepin County child protection investigator. “Susan kept herself knowledgeable in community resources to assist families in economic or emotional hardship and never proposed that families caused their own misery. Her compassion was refreshing.”
In her off time, Carstens was an avid ballroom dancer and took lessons at Arthur Murray Studios. She was a longtime member of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.
The family joke was to never say anything about her age (69), but she was wise beyond her years, said her sister. “She was the smart one,” Robbins said, adding that Carstens held about every degree one could earn after graduating from Minneapolis South High School in 1964, including a doctorate in psychology from the University of St. Thomas.
Besides Robbins, Carstens is survived by another sister, Julie Hanson, of Bloomington. Services have been held.