LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — One in three Nevada State Police trooper positions are vacant as the union representing those on the force is warning lawmakers they must act soon before there is no one left to patrol the roads.
Data from the Department of Public Safety revealed 123 out of 389 sworn-officer positions needed to be filled as of January.
“I don’t know what it’s going to take for the legislature to understand this,” Wayne Dice, a spokesperson for the Nevada Police Union, said. “I’d hate to see one of their family members be killed by a DUI driver and that’s what finally tips the hand for us to get some help. It shouldn’t take that.”
There are some areas under Nevada State Police’s authority with no coverage. Substations in Eureka, Indian Springs and Lovelock have no troopers at all — all their positions are vacant.
“We’re in Las Vegas, Nevada. A 24/7 drinking town,” Dice said. “This isn’t another town across the country that shuts down at night. It’s constant.”
On Monday, the 8 News Now Investigators highlighted a fatal crash in September where a suspected impaired driver crossed the centerline on U.S. 95, killing an 18-year-old UNLV student. Though local police responded within seven minutes, records revealed the first trooper arrived 45 minutes after impact.
“It’s really bad right now,” Dice said. “It’s because of a lack of enforcement and we can’t do any proactive enforcement because we don’t have enough personnel to do that.”
It’s no secret there is a staffing emergency.
“If we can’t start stopping the bleeding this year, we’re not sure we’ll be around by next year,” Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Sherri Brueggemann said during a legislative hearing earlier this month.
A starting state trooper will make $21.15 per hour, compared to the $26.25 average for all Nevada police agencies – a 24% difference. The Boulder City, Clark County School Department, Las Vegas Metro, Henderson and North Las Vegas police departments all pay more than the state.
Starting hourly rate for officer (rank/step vs. equivalent):
- Nevada State Police: $21.15
- North Las Vegas Police Dept.: $27.06 (28% difference)
- Henderson Police Dept.: $27.60 (30% difference)
- Clark County School District Police Dept.: $27.64 (31% difference)
- Las Vegas Metro Police Dept.: $32.79 (55% difference)
The difference in pay does not include the 24% of state employees’ paychecks that are automatically put toward retirement. State law requires an employer to cover a police or fire employee’s retirement contribution, but the state of Nevada itself is excluded. The retirement contribution will near 30% when the rate increases in July.
“I can’t see how the state of Nevada goes forward without paying these people what they’re worth,” retired Nevada Highway Patrol Col. Anne Carpenter said. “I just don’t understand. They’ll keep leaving.”
A state trooper can expect to make about $400,000 less than their Metro counterpart over a 20-year career, department data said.
“Do you feel like people were even listening to you?” 8 News Now Investigator David Charns asked Carpenter, who led the department for a little more than a year from 2020-2021.
“You know, I think they listened,” she said. “I think it’s difficult because the state has a finite amount of money.”
The union had asked former Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak to consider a special legislative session to address the staffing issue. That never happened. The Board of Examiners, which the governor chairs, approved a new collective bargaining agreement for the police union in 2022, which included a 2% pay bump. The increase would have been retroactive to July 2021.
Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo is proposing pay increases for state employees by as much as 8% one year followed by 4% the next.
With the proposal, public safety department leaders estimate Lombardo’s proposal would be a net gain of 18% for the first year, not including the anticipated retirement-deposit increase of about 5%, Brueggemann said.
“Our goal is to get that pay up to a 25% increase, just so we can start on the same footing as everybody else,” Brueggemann told lawmakers.
“It’s not enough. It’s not acceptable,” Dice said.
The legislature’s 2023 session began Feb. 6 and ends June 5. If no action is taken, the body will not regularly meet again until early 2025. The governor’s proposal, as well as others that may come up this session, had not officially been entered into the legislative record as of Tuesday.