Lawmakers release plans to improve water patrol training

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JEFFERSON CITY - A group of state representatives released a report Thursday addressing its plans for improving the merger between the Missouri State Highway Patrol and its water patrol division. 

State Rep. Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton) said the group found several ways to improve training and increase community involvement.  

"After listening to testimony from all the stakeholders and reviewing all of the relevant data, it is now clear that there are some key areas where the Water Patrol can takes steps to become more effective and efficient," Franklin said. 

The report comes after 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson died in the custody of Missouri State Highway Patrol at the Lake of the Ozarks in May 2014. Ellingson was under arrest for suspected DWI. Witnesses said he was handcuffed and improperly placed in a life jacket before drowning.

The Water Patrol was merged into the Missouri State Highway Patrol in 2011 following a piece of legislation (HB 1868) that was passed and signed into law in 2010. Following the passage of the bill, Gov. Jay Nixon said the merger would save the state $3 million annually and make the patrol "an even more effective force, seamlessly patrolling Missouri's roads and waters."

Ellingson's mother, Sherry Ellingson, said even though this new report has been posted, she still thinks the merger is doing more harm than good.

"The premise that they increase public safety by bringing the highway patrol and the water patrol together is complete hogwash," Ellingson said. "They've done exactly the opposite of that. They've put the public safety at risk and in doing so they killed my son."

Franklin also noted the committee uncovered several benefits that have resulted from 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.