After nearly three years without a training academy, the Nevada Highway Patrol is short 65 sworn officers, stretching the existing staff to the limits.
Most of the vacancies are in Southern Nevada. At full staff, the highway patrol should have 449 sworn officers.
NHP Col. Dave Hosmer said the problem isn't uniform across the state. He said the northern command is having more success retaining experienced personnel, while "in Vegas it's killing us."
"We have a 30-percent vacancy rate," he said of the Las Vegas command.
Statewide the vacancy rate is 15 percent.
The problem is two-fold. Some of those troopers have retired and others promoted to higher-level posts. More vacancies were caused by troopers leaving to take jobs with local police agencies in the state.
The other half of the problem is the highway patrol hasn't held a training academy for new recruits for three years since Dick Kirkland took over the Department of Public Safety.
Kirkland and Hosmer said there were problems with how the highway patrol did background checks on applicants, problems with the training academy itself and with the field training program following the academy.
As a result, highway patrol has 58 vacant trooper positions, one vacant sergeant and five vacant lieutenant positions, as well as the NHP pilot's position.
Hosmer said the process of revamping the recruitment and training process is now nearly complete and he plans to hold an eight-week academy for recruits who are already POST 1 certified in August. The academy will be followed by a full basic academy for recruits without prior law enforcement experience, which lasts more than 20 weeks.
"I want them back to back after that," said Hosmer, saying he needs to fill all those vacant trooper positions.
Hosmer said the state should begin taking applications for the vacant lieutenant positions today. Most of those posts were vacated when experienced lieutenants were promoted to captain -- made necessary by the exodus of upper-level command officers following Kirkland's appointment as director. More than a dozen command officers including Hosmer's predecessor, left NHP after Kirkland became director.
Hosmer said training is also planned for new command officers to help them adjust to the demands of becoming a supervisor.
Hosmer said the changes began with a much stronger system for doing background checks on applicants and screening to make sure candidates meet standards for the job. That also included refining the qualifications for trooper.
He said the academy has been restructured to focus on what troopers need to know. He said the old program, for example, included 16 hours on how to search a house.
"How often does a trooper get involved in a house search?" Hosmer said.
Now, the class focuses more on searching vehicles, tractor-trailer rigs, motor homes and the like.
The critical change, he said, is in how troopers are taught. He said the program has changed from a military-style training program to scenario-based education putting the cadet into realistic situations. And he said, at every stage, the training presents and forces the cadets to deal with ethical issues they will encounter on the street.
The result, Hosmer said, should be better trained and more professional troopers to serve the people of Nevada.