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Legislation to move Capitol Police out of Public Safety advances

Legislation to move Capitol Police out of Public Safety advances

March 15th, 2019 by Bob Watson in News

Officers Brian Folker, foreground, and Jeff Lentz of the Capitol Police welcome a group visiting the Missouri state Capitol on Thursday from the School of the Ozarks in Branson.

Photo by Mark Wilson /News Tribune.

A St. Charles County lawmaker says Capitol Police should be a part of the Missouri Capitol Commission rather than the state Public Safety Department.

Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, presented his bill to the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday morning — then the committee voted 6-1 to recommend the full House debate and pass the bill.

"This is something that we've been trying to do in this building for a long time," Hicks told members of the committee, which he chairs, "to secure the entrances to this building, for our constituents that walk in and out of it, so that they feel safe and secure.

"And so our members will feel safe and secure when they're on the House floor, or walking the hallways or being here late at night."

Hicks said he'd been working on the bill "for the last two months," including talking with members of both parties and both chambers, as well as visiting "other state capitols" and the nation's Capitol in Washington, D.C.

"Our Capitol Building really does not have Capitol Police," he testified. "They have it on their badges. They have it on their patches. And they're proud to be Capitol Police.

"But right now, the problem is, they're security guards."

Hicks said he'd like to remove the scanners "that were brought in by Gov. Greitens" and take away the Capitol Police officers' duties of checking people as they enter the Capitol, "so they can actually do what their job is to do, to police this building, to serve and protect."

He noted Capitol Police also have two dogs trained to "sniff for explosives, and in a building like this, that's a very important issue."

But, Hicks said, the dogs spend too much time lying under the security tables at either the garage or south side entrances to the Capitol.

When he first came in 2012, Hicks said, he saw Highway Patrol officers in the building, but noted: "This is not the highway. It's the Capitol Building.

"We have Capitol Police, and it's time we recognize Capitol Police as exactly what they are."

Hicks argued the Capitol Police "have investigation authority know what they are doing (and) are absolutely capable of doing the job — if we can give them the tools that they need to do them."

An item in the 2007-08 Official State Manual noted the Capitol Police had been "the primary law enforcement agency for the 72-acre state office building campus known as the Capitol Complex" since 1983.

Currently they're authorized to have 34 officers, but right now have only 28 because their low pay creates turnover.

Hicks told the News Tribune after Thursday's hearing: "Right now, they're currently one of the lowest-paid police departments in our state, and I'd like to see them bumped up a little bit for what they do in this building and the people they protect."

Still, he said: "(This idea) is not about money. It's about security and the safety of this building and taking care of a police department."

Hicks told the committee the Capitol Police chief "could run his department on his own" if the authority were transferred from Public Safety to the Capitol Commission — adding, in an interview: "They're Capitol Police. They belong in the Capitol protecting our lieutenant governor and all of us."

Hicks also noted Capitol Police patrol more than just the buildings in Jefferson City's Downtown Capitol Complex.

"They cover 36 different buildings in and around Cole County," he said. "This is bigger than just us. This is about the safety and security of many individuals who come to Jefferson City."

No one testified for, or against, Hicks' bill.

Speaking for informational purposes only, House Chief Clerk Dana Rademan Miller — who took over the job late last year — told the committee: "I fully support the Capitol Police. Just in my short time in this role, they (have been) present. They come by to check on us. We have conversations with them morning, noon and night."

She also noted that "retention has been an ongoing issue" in the Capitol Police agency's history.

No one from the Public Safety Department attended Thursday's hearing.

Spokesman Mike O'Connell noted the department doesn't comment on pending legislation.

Hicks said the bill isn't "a political power grab. If there's a winner here, it's the people of Missouri and the police department that belongs in the Capitol."