Zim Schwartze, the Springfield-Greene County 911 Emergency Communications director for seven years, stepped into her new role as chief of the Missouri Capitol Police after the start of the new year.
Awaiting her was a yearlong debate over which entity should authorize employment of Missouri Capitol Police officers. It’s currently the Department of Public Safety.
Proposed again this legislative session, House Bill 1521 would move authority of the Missouri Capitol Police to the Missouri State Capitol Commission, rather than the state department. The commission would comprise the governor, speaker of the House of Representatives, president pro tem of the Senate, the chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court and a committee chairperson.
Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, first proposed the bill during the 2019 legislative session, but after a 148-2 approval from the House, the bill stalled in the Senate. Hicks said he believes the bill did not pass because of opposition by Gov. Mike Parson.
One public proponent of the bill was former Missouri Capitol Police Chief Mark Maples, who left the department in September after nearly two years in the role.
Maples said Department of Public Safety Director Sandy Karsten dismissed him from his duties without cause, though he believes his termination was politically motivated because of his support of Hicks’ bill.
Karsten declined a request for an interview. Public Safety Communications Director Mike O’Connell described Maples’ departure as a “personnel matter” and declined to comment further.
Discussion is expected to continue this year, Hicks said, as he anticipates full House approval.
Maples said his support of the bill stems from the restrictions he experienced by the state department, noting he had no control over the use of his department’s budget or other executive decisions.
During the last session, the House budget committee allocated $1.8 million from general revenue to the Capitol Police for personal service and equipment purposes this fiscal year, according to budget documents.
The Missouri Capitol Police is the primary law enforcement agency for the 72-acre Capitol Complex, which comprises state office buildings and the Capitol building, according to the Public Safety website. The Capitol Police also has authority over state facilities in Cole County that are outside of the complex, and police officers respond to criminal investigations, traffic accidents, medical emergencies, security escorts, and security and fire alarms within their jurisdiction, according to the site.
The Capitol draws in roughly 15,000 state employees and over 200,000 annual visitors, according to the website.
“The House and Senate have no input on what happens to the Capitol Police, and I think they should because it’s their house,” Maples said.
HB 1521 also could result in more funds allocated to the Capitol Police under House approval, which could increase salaries, Maples said.
In fiscal 2019, O’Connell said officers received salaries of just under $37,500. This last fiscal year generated a 17% employee turnover rate from the team of 29, according to O’Connell.
At the Springfield Police Department, police officers start with a base salary of roughly $35,000 and can earn up to over $63,000, according to data provided by department spokeswoman Jasmine Bailey. The police chief in Springfield, Paul Williams, is paid over $157,000 a year.
Schwartze, who was earning $120,440 in Springfield, makes roughly $70,000 in her state job. Maples said he received the same yearly wage as Capitol Police chief.
The proposed legislation also gives the Missouri Capitol Police the authority to prosecute for trespassing or vandalism at the state buildings, which under current law, is handled by Karsten.
Hicks said his motivation to sponsor the bill again this year is based on Maples’ termination and former House support of the legislation.
“I feel terrible that my bill cost a man his job. It was an unforeseen circumstance, and I will fight for him,” Hicks said. “My intention was to better the police department, not further hurt it.”
Maples said he was given a gag order concerning Hicks’ proposed legislation last year.
“The director told me and my staff that the governor and she did not support the bill, and we weren’t supposed to talk about it. I was told by the director more than once that if she caught me talking about it, then there would be changes. I didn’t go out and actively lobby for the bill, but I answered the questions I was asked by lawmakers,” he said.
“(Schwartze) is walking into a political headache because it’s not going away. She’ll be put in the same position I was put in.”
Schwartze stepped into the role Jan. 6. She declined to comment on the bill and said she plans on acting separately from the work in the state legislature.
“At this time, the legislators can file whatever bill and let it work through the system. I was hired and work for the Department of Public Safety and Sandy Karsten,” Schwartze said.
“I’m not worried about political controversy. We have a job to do and that’s to provide safety to those at the Capitol.”
Schwartze also said she was excited for the move back to mid-Missouri, where she’ll be reconnected with her husband, who’s been living in Boone County for three years.
She began her law enforcement career in 1991 at the Columbia Police Department. In 2016, Schwartze was recognized as the Missouri 911 Director of the Year and the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International 911 Director of the Year, according to Springfield Business Journal reports.
She is an adjunct instructor for Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety and the Law Enforcement Training Institute in Columbia.
Features Editor Christine Temple contributed.
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