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University Police to seek new critical labor shortage designation in Southern Nevada

The move would allow the department to rehire retired officers, mirroring a similar designation from the agency in 2022.
Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Higher Education

University Police will ask higher education regents later this month to declare a formal critical labor shortage designation — a request that comes amid flagging police recruitment in Southern Nevada and a statewide debate over campus safety after three UNLV faculty members were killed in an on-campus shooting in December. 

If approved, the new two-year designation would allow the department to circumvent limits on rehiring previously retired supervisory officers — including sergeants, lieutenants and community services officers (CSOs) — receiving the state’s Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) benefits. 

It marks the second such request in as many years, after regents declared a critical shortage of UPD officer and dispatch positions in late 2022

University Police maintains two law enforcement arms — one in Southern Nevada covering UNLV, Nevada State University, the College of Southern Nevada and the Desert Research Institute (DRI) and the other in Northern Nevada covering UNR, Truckee Meadows Community College, Western Nevada College, Great Basin College and the northern DRI campus.

The move comes as the department has struggled to fill vacancies since 2019, amid a small exodus of supervisory employees who are traditionally more difficult to replace. 

Documents submitted to regents this week show that more than half of the department’s 30 positions — 18 total — remain unfilled, including 12 of 13 unfilled CSO positions and 5 of 11 sergeant positions. Open sergeant positions have remained vacant for “more than two years,” the request said, with CSO positions unfilled “for almost a year.” 

Those documents also show that since 2019, the department’s turnover rate is roughly 83 percent — 62 of 75 sworn officers — and its total vacancy rate is 45 percent. Though the designation applies for both southern and northern police commands, only the southern command has struggled to maintain staff and fill supervisor vacancies. 

The requested designation comes as higher education institutions across Nevada have sought to reexamine safety protocols in the wake of the UNLV campus shooting late last year. As an interim measure, UNLV hired a third-party security firm to increase security presence on campus in the spring semester, and UNLV President Keith Whitfield said in a letter to the campus community Thursday that five new UPD officers were sworn in this month. 

University Police Chief Adam Garcia declined a request for a phone interview, citing time constraints. However, Garcia said in an email that the recruitment and retention issues were not unique to UPD, mirroring a “nearly universal issue at agencies across the country.” 

“Between the pandemic, publicized scrutiny, heightened law enforcement accountability, cyclical employee retirements, transferring to other law enforcement agencies for increases in compensation, professional growth, or a change of law enforcement specialty, agencies across Nevada and the country have experienced unprecedented impacts to recruiting and retaining law enforcement officers,” Garcia wrote. 

Police departments across Nevada have struggled to keep pace with department turnover in recent years. Last May, the Nevada State Police announced it would curtail early morning patrols in Northern Nevada because of a severe staffing shortage. During the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers and Gov. Joe Lombardo — a former Clark County sheriff — backed a near 20 percent pay increase for state police designed to create parity with local law enforcement. 

Nationwide, some police departments have explored expanding programs rehiring retired officers, including the use of so-called deferred retirement option programs (DROP) that allow retired individuals to continue receiving retirement benefits while back on the job. 

Such programs have come under increasing scrutiny for ballooning costs. A Los Angeles Times investigation in 2018 found officers in the city’s DROP program were significantly more likely to receive paid time off at double pay than other officers. In Nevada, a proposed bill to create a similar program stalled after the state’s pension system attached an $80 million cost estimate to the proposal.


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