The state House Committee that investigated the merger of the state Water Patrol into the State Highway Patrol found it hasn’t saved the state money, and in some cases the agency’s procedures and operations suffered.
The committee was formed in September to look at how the Water Patrol division is managed, trooper training and whether the state has saved money since the 2011 merger. It did not look into the drowning death in May of 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson of Iowa, while in the custody of trooper Anthony Piercy on the Lake of the Ozarks. Piercy later said he had not been adequately trained to be out on the water, after crossing over from being a highway trooper.
Representative Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton) chaired that committee. She says it found issues with how troopers are trained to be on the water and how that training has been documented.
“We were able to look back at the protocols and the processes and the procedures that the former Water Patrol used for training, and it was then very difficult to find that same regiment anywhere documented in what had happened after, particularly in training, after 2012,” Franklin told Missourinet.
The committee issued a list of nine recommendations. The second item on that list involves training and certification of marine officers and command officers.
The recommendations start with an internal review to be conducted by Captain Matt Walz, who was a captain in the Water Patrol prior to the merger. Highway Patrol Captain Tim Hull says Walz has already been made the Assistant Director of the Water Patrol Division.
“He has already begun his process of doing a full review of the training for individual officers and procedures associated with the marine duties statewide,” Hull said.
Franklin says she believes improvements in training are already happening.
“I think they began that in the fall. They’re going to develop checklists and be sure that everyone is trained appropriately to be out there on the water.”
As for financial results of the merger, the committee cites the findings of State Auditor Tom Schweich’s office, that the merger has cost taxpayers an additional $900,000 dollars annually. It had been projected the merger would save the state between $2.8-million and $3-million a year.
The recommendations include that the Patrol will report to the committee in six months on its progress in implementing the other recommendations, and a legislative overview would follow-up in two years.
Early in the committee’s hearings Franklin had expressed frustration with the Patrol, and a feeling that it was not being cooperative. She says that turned around as the process continued.
“We were really on a discovery process and it wasn’t a pleasant one. Sometimes the journey was a little hard, but we got through that and got to a really good place,” said Franklin. “And I don’t feel like I gave any ground or I compromised … we met it head on and we worked through it.”
Franklin thanked the stakeholders, citizens, and former Water Patrol members who testified at the panel’s hearings.