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Missouri Lawmakers Question Merger Of Missouri Highway Patrol, Water Patrol

Missouri State Highway Patrol

The 2011 merger of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the water patrol is getting mixed reviews from state lawmakers in a report released Thursday.

In the final report, members of the House Review Committee on the 2011 water patrol division merger cited several problems, including less water-related training. Before the merger, water patrol officers had to undergo 1,123 hours of training, with 281 of those hours specifically related to boating and swimming.

Since the merger, state trooper candidates undergo around 1,200 hours of training.  Those training to be marine officers have expanded categories of training, but the total hours of water or marine training have dropped to 175.  State trooper candidates who are not designated for water patrol undergo only 36 hours of marine-related training, according to the committee's findings.

The cost of the merger was also examined. When Missouri lawmakers passed House Bill 1868 in 2010, Gov. Jay Nixon predicted at the time that the merger would save the state around $3 million a year.  But an audit released in September 2011 found that it actually cost the state about $900,000.

The report also shows that the water patrol is less visible on Missouri's lakes and rivers following the merger. Total motorboat hours gradually declined from 9,845 in 2012 to 8,375 in 2014.  In Troop F, where the Lake of the Ozarks is located, total motorboat hours on the water dropped from 4,815 in 2012 to 3,652 in 2013, then increased to 3,873 in 2014.  In addition, cross training of highway troopers who would also be assigned to water duty was left up to individual troop commanders, resulting in field training that "was not consistent or standardized."

On the positive side, Committee Chair Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, cited several benefits to the merger, including "enhanced information and data access through improved technology, increased support on marines operations boats and vehicles, as well as the capability to renovate the swim training pool," which is set to reopen in June.

The committee issued a number of recommendations, including:

  • A thorough internal review to be conducted by Capt. Matt Walz (a former water patrol officer now with Troop F of the highway patrol
  • Training, certification, and recertification of Marine Operations officers and command officers, including a swimming standard and an annual recertification of all marine officers for swimming and pertinent training in the offseason
  • Better relationships with those who enjoy Missouri's waterways
  • Better boater safety and education courses within local schools and communities.
  • Distinctly mark patrol boats so they are visible and easily recognizable
  • Update the committee in six months on the progress implementing the recommendations

The committee was appointed after an Iowa man drowned last year at the Lake of the Ozarks while in Highway Patrol custody.  The full report can be viewed here.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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