News & Features

Kalispell Detective Named Montana Officer of the Year

Karen Webster investigates sex crimes and has been on the force for 11 years

Ever since she was a kid, Karen Webster wanted to be a detective.

Webster’s dad was an officer with the Whitefish Police Department and even served as chief for a few years. Webster said she always had a deep respect for law enforcement and considered going into the field early on, but life initially took her down a different path.

That slight detour perhaps made the news earlier this month that she was named the Montana Association of Chiefs of Police’s officer of the year award just a little bit sweeter. Webster has been with the Kalispell Police Department for more than a decade and since 2015 has been a detective investigating sex crimes.

After high school, Webster joined the Navy where she was a linguist for five years. Webster got married and started a family in her late 20s, but later separated from her husband and moved back to the Flathead Valley. Webster was almost 30, a single-mother of two and wondering what she should do next. Initially, she found a job selling organic produce, but she still wanted to do something different. A friend told her she should peruse her long-held dream of being a detective, but Webster thought that was unrealistic. Then Webster got laid off from her job.

Undeterred, Webster went to the local job service branch. Perhaps serendipitously there was a job posting for a police officer in Kalispell.

“I decided to throw everything I had at that application,” she said. “I thought if I applied and didn’t get it, maybe I’d finally get this desire to be a detective out of my system.”

Instead, she got a call from then Chief Frank Garner who said, “I have some good news and some bad news, which do you want first?” Webster, figuring she did not get the job, asked for the bad news.

“The bad news is you’re not going to be getting a lot of sleep anymore,” Garner said. “The good news is we want to hire you.”

Webster joined the force in 2006 as a patrol officer. Two years later, Webster became a school resource officer where she worked in local middle schools and later Flathead High School. Webster said she loved working with children and helping them understand that police officers were people they could approach if something was wrong. After another stint on patrol, Webster finally achieved her long-held dream of being a detective when she was promoted in 2015. Since then, she has focused on sex crimes, including those that involve children.

Webster’s boss, Investigations Capt. Doug Overman, said she has the perfect temperament to deal with some of the terrible situations she has to work in. That’s why he nominated her to be police officer of the year.

“I’m still shocked that I won,” Webster said.

As for what’s next, Webster said she hopes to someday be a sergeant, but for now she is happy in her current position, trying to do “the right thing.”

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