Nevada troopers’ union questions need for more Sisolak security

(Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye

The union that represents Nevada Highway Patrol troopers is questioning how state leaders could propose spending nearly $400,000 on additions to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s security detail when the Highway Patrol is struggling to keep troopers on staff.

The state Board of Examiners in April approved a request to beef up security for Sisolak by adding three new dignitary protection positions, including two officers and one sergeant. The state’s Interim Finance Committee would still have to approve the measure at a cost of $373,051.

Wayne Dice, the Southern Nevada liaison for the Nevada Police Union that includes Highway Patrol troopers, said union members have expressed frustration to him over the proposal after they read an article about it in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Dice said in the last two years, the Highway Patrol has had a number of troopers leave the agency for better-paying jobs at other policing agencies that don’t require officers to contribute some 23 percent of their salary to the Public Employee Retirement System to fund their retirement.

“They are very concerned that these three bodies are going to have to come from the road when we are already short-staffed,” Dice said in a phone interview. “It is very concerning to the members that they are already having issues with getting proper backup out on the highways.”

Sisolak’s office and the Nevada State Police agency that oversees the Highway Patrol responded to Dice’s criticisms in emails. They said the security detail selection is not restricted to only the Highway Patrol.

“All resources are utilized, which includes all sworn Divisions: Highway Patrol, Parole and Probation, Capitol Police, Investigations, Fire Marshal, and the Training Division,” the governor’s office said. “Sworn law enforcement troopers or officers volunteer for the position and, if selected, they are then trained for the assignment.”

A memo supporting the enhanced staffing for Sisolak’s detail cited elevated threats for elected officials nationwide as one of the reasons for the need for more security.

The governor was also recently accosted at a Las Vegas restaurant by two men shouting racial and anti-government threats at them. One of Sisolak’s political opponents in the race for governor, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, had a similar experience at a Las Vegas forum.

The governor’s office said the dignitary protection detail is budgeted for and paid out of the Nevada State Police budget. Additional funds, if approved by the Interim Finance Committee, would come out of a contingency account.

The governor’s office went on to say that Sisolak is working on getting troopers and other law enforcement personnel with the Nevada State Police agency a raise.

“The Governor and his team continue to work with leadership… to address officer shortages and work to ensure state police are well-trained and well-paid,” Sisolak’s office said. “That includes the Governor’s plans to propose a salary increase for Nevada State Police in the next legislative session.”

A presentation made by state police to state legislators in 2021, meanwhile, showed a serious retention problem. The department said its overall officer turnover rate was 135 percent in 2020, with 60 cadets hired while 81 officers departed from the agency.

In 2019, the turnover rate was 109 percent, and the year prior it was 127 percent. The union has said troopers are leaving the Highway Patrol for jobs with policing agencies in Henderson, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and other outlets for better pay and benefits.

According to the state police presentation, a state police sergeant’s base salary ranges from $55,123 to $82,872. A Metro sergeant’s base salary ranges from $80,974 to $115,232, and a Henderson sergeant’s base salary ranges from $100,724 to $122,460.

The retention problems at the Highway Patrol come as traffic fatalities have skyrocketed in Nevada. Last year, Nevada officials reported 382 crash-related fatalities, the deadliest year on state roadways since 2006, according to preliminary data.

Excessive speed has been a factor in about one-third of all fatal crashes in recent years. Through the first three months of 2022, Nevada has seen a dip in traffic fatalities year-over-year. Clark County’s numbers, however, have continued to worsen.

The governor’s office said Sisolak cannot unilaterally approve salary increases or other benefits packages outside of the legislative process. Nevada State Police said they are continuing to hold recruitment events and conduct marketing efforts to boost the agency’s ranks.

Dice, however, said the Highway Patrol is enduring a staffing crisis, and that the problem has been ignored by state leaders for years. He said an immediate fix is needed.

“The shortages are going to cause a lot of issues with public safety and the officers out there working the road and not having the backup because we are so short staffed because of the people leaving,” Dice said.

Contact Glenn Puit by email at gpuit@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.