A state lawmaker has proposed reversing the 2011 merger of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the State Water Patrol.
The Water Patrol was folded into the Highway Patrol after the legislature and Governor Jay Nixon (D) approved the merger in the 2010 legislative session. Backers said the merger would save the state about $3-million and increase efficiency. An audit released in September, 2011, found that the merger would actually cost the state $900,000 more a year.
Representative Diane Franklin chaired a House committee that in the summer of 2014 examined the merger of the two patrols. That committee came to the conclusion the merger didn’t save the state money, and resulted in troopers being less well-trained.
It issued recommendations for the Patrol to improve training and in other areas, and she said the Patrol has worked to follow those recommendations, but she believes separating the two agencies would better serve Missourians.
“I just think that the missions are so different. There are such different ways that public safety is done – one on the road, one on the water – that I just don’t see this as a good path to ensure that we’ve got good, safe waterways,” said Franklin.
Franklin’s Committee was formed in the months after an Iowa man, 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson, drowned in the Lake of the Ozarks while handcuffed and in the custody of a former road trooper, Anthony Piercy. Piercy has since been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Franklin did not say whether that incident is one of the reasons for filing her bill, but said the merger strengthened the Highway Patrol but at the expense of the Water Patrol, “in all the aspects. In the training, in having a focused passion there to be sure that it served the folks well, and it is very noticeable throughout the state. People felt and could see and could tell the difference and we could demonstrate the difference through the different facts and figures.”
Franklin said Missouri must have a, “top-notch water patrol, and the demands for public safety on the waterways are not going to lessen. They’re going to increase as folks continue to come here, more people buy real estate here, they buy boats, they enjoy the Lake, so we have to return to having that passion on the water.”
Franklin said she hasn’t gauged the feelings of other lawmakers or the governor’s office on the bill.
A request for comment from Nixon’s office was not replied to by the time this story was posted.