LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A lack of funding and resources has created a public emergency on Nevada’s roads, retired Nevada State Police Col. Anne Carpenter said in a one-on-one interview Tuesday.
Carpenter, a longtime public servant, became the first woman to head Nevada Highway Patrol in October 2020. She served until November 2021. Highway patrol changed its name to Nevada State Police Highway Patrol last year.
“Did you get to a point where you just thought, ‘This is a systematic problem?’” 8 News Now Investigator David Charns asked Carpenter.
“I don’t give up,” she said. “I’m very tenacious and I don’t give up. I will go around; I’ll go up and under. I’ll do whatever it takes to make it work.”
Carpenter rose through the ranks in the Department of Public Safety. She bounced around between highway patrol and Parole and Probation before her elevation to colonel.
“I loved it,” she said about the job where she oversaw a staff of about 600. “You can make a difference. You wake up every day and say, ‘OK, what am I going to do today? How am I going to impact the community? How am I going to impact my people?”
But by the end of 2021, with retirement on the horizon, Carpenter bowed out.
You can only ask for the bare necessities so many times. Three or four troopers are covering the entire valley overnight, a Nevada Police Union spokesperson said, adding the preferred number is at least 12.
“Do you think you were given the resources to make those changes?” Charns asked.
“Being in a state agency for 27 years, there’s never enough resources, and the state usually runs very lean,” she said.
Carpenter took over the highway patrol when the agency was already amid a decade-long funding and staffing crisis. Last year the 8 News Now Investigators discovered state police pays the least among southern Nevada law enforcement.
Data from the state, provided by the Department of Public Safety in the spring of 2022, indicated a sergeant in Henderson can have a starting salary of $100,000, compared to $81,000 for Las Vegas Metro police and $55,000 for state police.
State troopers have not received a pay increase in more than a decade, the union spokesperson said. It is not an issue of which political party is in power. Both Democrats and Republicans have been in power as the personnel crunch snowballed.
More than 20% of a state police employee’s salary is automatically taken out for 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 number will near 30% when the rate increase per state law in July.
“It’s been very, very difficult,” she said. “It’s been challenging to accomplish your goals and ensure that your mission is accomplished when you don’t have enough staff, you don’t have enough money, you don’t have enough anything.”
The fear is that soon there will not be enough troopers. In 2021, the department had 98 vacancies out of 490 positions, a public records request revealed. In 2022, 131 spots needed to be filled out of 489.
“And then when you do find those people who love it, like I did, they’re not getting paid,” Carpenter said. “And they’re now paying more into their retirement.”
For more than a decade, Carpenter and her predecessor have sounded the alarm.
As the 8 News Now Investigators reported last year, a presentation given to the Nevada Legislature in 2021 included these startling statements: “Most highways are not covered on graveyard,” “Highway patrol may get to the point where they must turn away certain calls for service,” and “Response time to calls for service will continue to increase.”
As part of her job as colonel, Carpenter advocated for change to lawmakers.
“Do you feel like people were even listening to you?” Charns asked.
“You know, I think they listened, and I think that some of the legislators even shed tears over our words and what we said because it was impactful,” she said. “I think it’s difficult because the state has a finite amount of money.”
The union had asked former Nevada 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 includes a 2% pay bump. The increase would be retroactive to July 2021. The Legislature must approve the increase for it to become law.
The next legislative session begins Feb. 6.
Newly elected Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo made an election promise to raise state police salaries, using money from the American Rescue Plan, a post on his campaign website said, citing the 8 News Now Investigators’ reporting.
“Joe believes fully funding the police is essential to public safety, and he will always support Nevada law enforcement,” a post on his campaign website said.
A spokesperson for the governor said he looked forward to addressing the topic during his State of the State Address, which was scheduled for Monday, Jan. 23.
“You were asking people for help,” Charns said to Carpenter.
“Yes, every chance,” Carpenter said. “When I was there my mantra was, ‘I’m going to do less with less.’”
With Carpenter now watching from the sidelines, the question for lawmakers as they head into the 2023 session is: What is rock bottom?
“I can’t see how the state of Nevada goes forward without paying these people what they’re worth. I just don’t understand. They’ll keep leaving,” Carpenter said.