The chairwoman of a state House committee studying the merger of the Water Patrol into the Highway Patrol says some recommendations that the committee will make are becoming clear.
Representative Diane Franklin of Camdenton and her committee have heard two days of testimony, much of it from former Water Patrol troopers, some of whom are retired and others that are still working under the Highway Patrol.
Franklin says one thing that seems clear is that training, particularly in swimming, must return to the level it was at prior to the merger.
“You’re on the water, you’re in the water, and they articulated several things there; you may need to arrest someone that’s arresting you, you may need to save someone,” says Franklin. “We all know how important those survival … if someone gets a hold of you they can drown you too.”
Franklin says her committee will certainly recommend improved training when it submits its report before the end of the year. She would only specify that troopers must receive more training in swimming, but did not say the recommendation would be limited to that.
She says another theme in the two hearings has been the traditional role of the Water Patrol before the merger, and what is missing since the merger.
“That idea of a community officer on the water that they know like the back of their hand,” says Franklin. “They can respond to various crises that arise on the water and they provide that assurance to anyone that is on the water that they can help if their boat’s broke down or if someone’s injured or if there is a crash, or even the law enforcement issues. For the most part what I heard is that even residents and business owners alike would like to know who they’re talking to, who they’re calling, and have that relationship that I think is a value to any community.”
Several of those who testified said that kind of familiarity is no longer felt.
The committee is beginning to explore some things that Craig Ellingson wants them to. He is the father of Brandon Ellingson, who drowned while in the custody of a trooper on the Lake of the Ozarks, May 31. That trooper, Anthony Piercy, told a coroner’s inquest he didn’t have enough training.
Craig Ellingson says the merger has been a failure and he says it led to the death of his son.
“The guys that patrol the area need to patrol the same area and be familiar with the lake and get to know some of the people on that lake,” says Ellingson. “Right now a lot of people don’t know their water patrol officer. And as they said, it takes up to a couple of years to get the training that they really need to be sufficient on the water, and right now they’re not getting it.”
The committee also heard from some of those testifying who have years of experience on the water that they aren’t spending much time there now.
“It’s very disconcerting to hear that you have someone who has 30 years of experience that’s a lieutenant but there’s no pocket for them to fit into in order to serve an area where they’ve served 30 years prior,” says Franklin. “You know, that’s bureaucracy.”
The committee will offer a report to the Speaker of the House by the end of the year, with recommendations for changes.