RENO -- Nevada Highway Patrol Col. David Hosmer concedes trooper morale is low, especially in Southern Nevada where vacancies are taking a toll.
Statewide, about 65 of 424 positions for sworn officers are vacant. Most of the vacancies are in Las Vegas where the force is trying to operate with 30 percent of its trooper positions unfilled.
"They are doing a wonderful job but I'm burning them out," Hosmer said. "Morale I think will definitely be on the rise once we get those vacancies filled."
A NHP report earlier this year said if the vacancy rate in Las Vegas continues, "drastic measures" will be needed to maintain basic services, including mandatory overtime and jurisdictional changes with other law enforcement agencies.
That would reduce the effectiveness of the patrol in southern Nevada, the report said.
An anonymous memo distributed earlier this month to troopers in Las Vegas summed up one officer's frustration: "We shag the calls. We save lives. We get shot at and we get spit on," it read.
The memo, obtained by The Associated Press, complained that management priorities were misplaced, emphasizing new uniforms and patrol car paint designs over serious problems such as staffing.
"State troopers, walking around hanging their heads, acting like someone shot their dog because every time one of us has a suggestion for improvement all we get in return are excuses and lies as to why those suggestions won't work," it read.
It was signed by a "fed up state trooper."
Many law enforcement agencies report recruitment problems, Hosmer said, but NHP's woes are made worse by the suspension nearly three years ago of the patrol's training academy.
Hosmer said the academy was suspended while the program and hiring procedures were revamped to better focus on the patrol's mission of traffic safety and highway crime scenes.
"In my old academy, they taught people how to march in formation. I haven't marched in formation since," he said. "We need to focus our time with training people to deal with highway issues."
A new academy should be operating by August, he said.
Hosmer said procedures for hiring, testing and conducting background investigations have been changed to "identify the best recruit before you get them to the academy."
"We reviewed 40 background investigations that had been done previously," he said. "Of those, half would not have been admitted under the director or myself," he said.
"The process was screwed up."
Hosmer said trooper morale in other parts of the state is improving.
One trooper in the Carson-Tahoe area wrote about 200 violations a year, he said. The same officer wrote that many in the last month alone.
Supervisors asked him about the change.
"He said, 'You care now. Nobody used to care whether I was doing my job or not,"' Hosmer said.
The NHP report said moral in the agency's central command "is on the rise."
Trooper suggestions and increased productivity in the northern command, the report said, led to a 25 percent reduction in accidents the first three months of this year.