Police turnover is costing Nevada big

Replacing an employee is expensive. The State of Nevada’s cost to recruit, evaluate, and onboard a police officer is approximately $100,000. Additionally, there are exorbitant costs for owed compensation, productivity loss, and overtime as officers cover the shifts of those who leave state service. These expenses will likely increase as recently passed legislation requires additional medical assessments and situational training for police officers.

The increasing costs to replace a state police officer becomes imposing as Nevada’s state police agencies experience unsustainably high turnover and vacancy rates. The Nevada Department of Public Safety (DPS) reported a 135 percent turnover rate for fiscal year 2020, according to Deputy Director Sheri Brueggemann’s testimony at a legislative subcommittee on public safety in February. Along with the detrimental impacts on organizational culture, the inability to retain high quality and experienced police officers is costing taxpayers millions annually.

With turnover and vacancy rates at critical levels, the state cannot keep up with recruitment needs. During the Subcommittee on Public Safety meeting, Assemblymember Brittney Miller (D-Las vegas) posed a very consequential question to the presenting panel, ”Will DPS be able to recruit the cadets we need to fill these positions?” Deputy Director Brueggemann responded, “Without any change to the pay structure, no.” 

Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) also voiced concerns at the meeting, as the rural Nevada areas he represents are now covered by just one state trooper per hundreds of miles; in March 2020, Sergeant Ben Jenkins was the lone trooper assigned to cover a vast area of eastern Nevada. Without backup or a patrol partner, he was ambushed and tragically murdered when he stopped to assist a motorist in White Pine County.

In exit interviews, police officers cite pay inequity as a primary reason for leaving state service. Currently, state police are paid approximately 25 percent below their counterparts at city and county police departments. This imbalance is the result of local agencies successfully collectively bargaining to increase their wages to be competitive in the job market. The higher wages give incentive to state police officers to ‘jump ship’ in order to earn more. Local police departments, who also are struggling to recruit, know this and specifically target state police officers with advertisements to ‘earn more with a lateral move’.

It’s financially inefficient for the state to invest $100,000 to recruit and prepare police officers for duty, only to have them leave within a couple years because of pay inequity. The state could save tens-of-thousands of dollars per officer position by simply adjusting their initial base salary to parity with their counterparts at the local level and retain the officer for several years.

The Nevada Board of Examiners, led by Gov. Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Seretary. of State Barbara Cegavske, can address this issue by approving the state’s first collective bargaining agreement for Category I Peace Officers. The contract increases wages by two percent, adds longevity pay, and incentivizes officers for achieving advanced training and college degrees. The nation's most successful and high-performing organizations offer similar policies to their employees and have done so for decades.

The need for a modern and professionalized state police force, increased training, and a more diversified workforce is long overdue and operating in a constant state of high turnover and vacancy is precluding the state from being successful. Nevada must address the constant and costly resignation-replacement cycle of their state police, which is wasting millions of our tax dollars. A collective bargaining agreement that improves wages and working conditions for Category I Peace Officers begins to do just that.

Paul Klein is a spokesman and lobbyist for the Nevada Police Union, which represents employees working within the Nevada Department of Public Safety, Nevada Department of Wildlife, Nevada State Parks, and the Nevada System of Higher Education. These employees include highway patrol troopers, parole and probation officers, fire marshalls, detectives, game wardens, park rangers, university police, capitol police, and state public safety workers.