Branson area representative trying again to get legislature to approve police department at College of the Ozarks

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- In 2019, Representative Jeff Justus, R-Branson, sponsored a bill that would have allowed all private colleges in the state to have a public police department. It didn't make it to the finish line. This year, his bill would only allow College of the Ozarks to have one.

"There are 24 states across the US that have already made this commitment to private colleges," said Marvin Schoenecke, Dean of Administration, College of the Ozarks

That includes all the states surrounding Missouri except Kentucky and Kansas.

Right now, the College of the Ozarks has an 11 person security department. That's up from a six-person department just four years ago. The entrance is monitored by both security guards and cameras.

"We are concerned about safety," said Doyle Childers, College of the Ozarks alumnus.

The college thinks having its own police department would further increase the safety of its students, professors, and guests. In times of emergency, it could take a while for a law enforcement agency to get to the campus, because of it's rural location.

"At least 15 minutes," Schoenecke said. "It's been as much as 45 minutes depending on what else is going on in the county."

Some lawmakers in Monday's hearing were concerned.

"If you're going to give somebody the ability to assess other private individuals fines for things they do on their property, we're going down a really slippery road," said Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis.

Other lawmakers think it's beneficial. Representative Dave Griffith, a Jefferson City Republican, said when Lincoln University changed it's public safety department to a police department, crime on campus dropped significantly.

"When they see a police car, whether it be Jefferson City Police or Lincoln University police, then they look at it differently," Griffith said.

If the bill passes, it will be expensive for the college to implement, but its a cost the college believes is worth it.

"We always stand up for what is right and what is fair and of good value and compassion to the people that we serve," said Kurt McDonald, Head of Crisis Management, College of the Ozarks

The college and Rep. Justus support having a five year sunset on the law if it's passed. That'll allow the college a test period, and a chance to re-evaluate if a police department on campus isn't beneficial.