LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Lower pay and retirement benefits are just two reasons Nevada State Police is having major trouble hiring new recruits, state leaders and police union members said.
There are times in the Las Vegas Valley when just three or four troopers are patrolling the area’s major roads and freeways, the 8 News Now I-Team reported Monday. The decrease in manpower is fueling unsafe conditions – where speeding, impaired driving and recklessness are causing more death on the road.
The staffing issue is a big one for the Nevada Police Union, which represents Department of Public Safety employees. The Nevada State Police Highway Patrol, formerly Nevada Highway Patrol, is within the department. While focusing on southern Nevada’s freeways, state statute allows troopers to stop drivers on any road.
The staffing issue was a focus during a Nevada Legislative meeting in December. While the Legislature will not meet again until 2023, interim committees meet from time to time.
“The very viability of our state police is in jeopardy because of lack of personnel,” Republican Assem. Robin Titus said.
“Overall, we are well over 100, 150 positions short, hiring has been extremely difficult,” Nevada State Police Deputy Director Sheri Brueggemann said in the December meeting. “Applications are few and far between.”
More than 20% of a trooper’s salary is automatically taken out for retirement. State law requires an employer to cover a police or fire employee’s retirement contribution, but the state of Nevada itself is excluded.
Data from the state, provided by the Department of Public Safety, indicates a sergeant in Henderson can have a starting salary of $100,000, compared to $81,000 for Las Vegas Metro police and $55,000 for state police.
“In my almost 29 years of law enforcement, I’ve never seen this before,” Wayne Dice, a union representative, said.
At least 30 union members, made up of mostly troopers, have left the department his year, Dice said. More than half of first-year troopers leave after one year for a higher-paying job, staff told the Legislature last year.
“We have day shifts with six troopers working the valley,” he said. “Graveyards, maybe 3 or 4 sometimes.”
In his State of the State address last month, Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak promised to raise state police wages.
“When the Legislature returns to Carson City, I will be proposing a salary increase, so we guarantee that Nevada State Police are well-trained and well-paid,” the governor said.
The Board of Examiners, which the governor chairs, approved a new collective bargaining agreement for the police union last week, which includes a 2% pay bump. The increase would be retroactive to July 2021.
However, the Legislature must provide funding in the state budget and that process cannot begin until 2023 during the next legislative session.
“This is an issue that has to be addressed right now, because every week that goes by, we have more people leaving,” Dice said.
In addition to moving troopers off the DUI task force to cover other shifts, two troopers are now working on recruitment only, Brueggemann told the committee last year.