Missouri Water Patrol avoids split from Highway Patrol
LAKE OF THE OZARKS - The Missouri State Highway Patrol's partnership with Water Patrol remains intact for now.
Rep. Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton) dropped her proposal to separate the Missouri State Highway Patrol from the Water Patrol because more troopers have been trained to police the lake this summer.
She proposed a demerger bill in January, suggesting a split from the MSHP would give Water Patrol the money and resources necessary to be effective. Her proposal came after the Water Patrol was criticized for its ability to keep the lake safe.
Water Patrol Captain Matt Walz said troopers with previous Water Patrol experience will be added to lake staff by May. The division also plans to implement extended patrol shifts during peak boating season. This announcement caused Franklin to walk away from the demerger bill.
The Water Patrol joined forces with the Highway Patrol in 2011, in an effort to save the state $3 million per year.
But some people are worried the effort to save money came at a different cost.
In May 2014, 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson from Iowa died in a trooper's custody after being handcuffed for suspicion of drunk driving.
"It's very unfortunate that that happened, and I'm sure the Water Patrol feels horrible and everyone in the community does," Mark Brick said, lake restaurant owner said.
Many locals still remember the incident.
"I feel like they could have had a better hold on him," resident Sarah Nagel said. "I know that if a cop cuffs you and puts you in the back seat, they're not going to cuff you and then put you in the back seat and leave the door open."
"Any time anyone dies down here at the lake on the water it's going to hurt the reputation of the area," Brick said.
Walz said he's excited about the new training and what's to come for Water Patrol this season. He hopes their efforts will stop people from having to bring up the merger issue.
"Just because of one thing that happened, doesn't mean that they're not going to try to learn from that mistake and keep people safe down here," Nagel said.
Troopers said they’ve already seen a lot of traffic on the lake this year, but Memorial Day is when boating season kicks off for most mid-Missourians. While the Water Patrol is trying to make the lake safer, boaters can help keep themselves safe as well.
Mike Cross, Marina Manager at Four Seasons Marina, said boaters should check a few things before hitting the water this summer.
“Walk around their boat before they get in it and make sure if anything's missing, contact Water Patrol," he said. "Be weary of their surroundings. Sometimes people come down and they forget where they're at on the lake."
Merger or no merger, it seems most people can agree on one thing.
“A safe lake is a good lake,” Brick said.
The Water Patrol plans to add even more staff by the start of boating season 2017.