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Training discussed at third Highway Patrol merger hearing

Lawmakers on Wednesday once again took a look at the merger of the Missouri Water Patrol and Highway Patrol in 2011.

Training was an issue brought up at the previous hearings, and was once again talked about on Wednesday.

The hearings are to review how troopers are trained, how the division is managed, and the overall cost benefit.

This third hearing comes six months after 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson drowned while handcuffed in patrol custody.

The third hearing was two hours long, much shorter than the first two.

Captain Matt Walz was the first to take the the stand Wednesday.

He was with Water Patrol for more than 20 years before the merger.

“I have a real concern as a taxpayer and a citizen regarding the significant change by the patrol. The move to take all water patrol field personnel out of the Water Patrol division directly conflicted with house bill 1868,” said Walz.

Walz said the bill’s intent was for all the duties and responsibilities of the water patrol to be conducted by the water patrol division of the Highway Patrol.

Currently, he said road officers are making decisions about Water Patrol with no previous water experience and against water patrol officer advice.

“It’s very concerning when the laws pass with the clear intent to do one thing and a state agency decides they know better than our elected representatives and stray away from the law,” said Walz.

In order to be a road officer there are four phases of training a trooper must pass.

Forty days of training is required for road officers to patrol the water.

Representative Phillips asked Walz if those 40 days are being completed.

Walz said, “not that I am aware of.”

ABC 17 News asked Rep. Diane Franklin, the head of the committee, how she felt hearing that response.

“I just don’t understand why that would be. I mean law enforcement is all about being able to respond appropriately to the situation, whatever it may be, land or water and without the appropriate training that can not be done,” said Franklin.

The next hearing on the merger is November 19.

Franklin said the committee hopes to make their recommendation to the speaker of the house by mid December.

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