JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A highway and water patrol merger intended to save Missouri money and increase efficiency resulted in less training for troopers working on state waterways, according to a report from state lawmakers released Thursday.
A House committee spent months investigating the 2011 merger, which was supposed to save the state $3 million a year, after a handcuffed Iowa man fell from a trooper's boat in the Lake of the Ozarks and drowned.
Brandon Ellingson went into the water of the Lake of the Ozarks on May 31 after Trooper Anthony Piercy arrested him for drunken boating and handcuffed him. Ellingson, 20, was wearing a life vest that could not be fastened on a person wearing handcuffs, and the vest slipped off.
The Kansas City Star reported the trooper told authorities that he did not have proper training to handle that situation on a lake. Prosecutors did not press criminal charges against Piercy.
Lawmakers throughout hearings last year questioned changes in swim training before and after the merger, although the review did not focus on Ellingson's death.
"After reviewing copious amounts of oral and written testimony and reviewing current and former curricula from both formerWater Patrol and current marine enforcement, the committee submits that training, particularly water-related, has decreased since the merger," the report said.
Suggestions for improvement include setting swimming standards, annually re-certifying all marine officers in swimming and developing a command officer training course for those working on the water.
Republican state Rep. Diane Franklin of Camdenton said the amount of training wasn't consistent or well-documented after the departments joined.
Patrol superintendent Col. Ron Replogle and command staff "have discussed the recommendation with committee members and will continue to move forward with implementing them," Highway Patrol spokesman Capt. Tim Hull said.
Hull said the patrol last fall began requiring a swim test at the end of training for all troopers involved in marine operations. Capt. Matt Walz, who this year took over as assistant director of the Water Patrol Division, has begun a full review of training for individual officers and others who work on the water.
The report also questions cost savings and notes that response time to issues on Missouri's waterways and visibility of marine troopers dropped when the water patrol was merged into the State Highway Patrol.
A 2011 audit found the program cost an additional $900,000 a year, although officials have said that doesn't fully represent savings.
Other recommendations include changing marine officer assignments so they spend more time on the water instead of switching frequently to land patrol.
Benefits from the merger include increased access to data through technology improvements and the ability to renovate the pool used for swim training, according to the report.