Governor Jay Nixon says splitting up the state Water Patrol and Highway Patrol would be a mistake.
Nixon and the legislature approved merging the two in 2010, but Representative Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton) says safety and law enforcement have suffered and she proposes separating them again.
Nixon says the combining of those agencies’ leadership was needed, and proved itself during recent flooding.
“When (Highway Patrol Superintendent) Colonel (Bret) Johnson could bring anywhere in the state water rescue resources and get them there in a timely fashion … two years ago we had two boats down in Pulaski County, and the second one was the one that made the rescue,” said Nixon.
Franklin says the merger strengthened the Highway Patrol at the expense of the Water Patrol, but Nixon says the merger benefitted both agencies.
“But also to dramatically augment what was a very limited water patrol. You had about 100 officers, is all,” said Nixon.
Franklin doesn’t directly use the drowning of Brandon Ellingson while in Patrol Custody on the Lake of the Ozarks in 2014 as a justification for her proposal, but Nixon argued that it shouldn’t be a reason for splitting the two agencies.
“You had one unfortunate incident which has gotten a tremendous amount of attention,” said Nixon, who said it shouldn’t motivate people to support a split, “to reactively change public policy and laws passed by this legislature, funded by this legislature, training expanded by our highway patrol, and response to emergencies that’s quite frankly second-to-none.”
Nixon says the legislature has since supported that merger by spending money on a swim tank for trooper training.