The Nevada Highway Patrol Association has complained to Gov. Kenny Guinn that Public Safety Director Dick Kirkland took one of the NHP troopers positions designated as "critical" off the streets in Las Vegas to create a "personal assistant" for his office.
"I'm sorry, the critical need is for troopers in Las Vegas, not for statisticians in headquarters," said Association President Stewart Handte, who also charged that the individual is "double dipping" both salary and a PERS pension he earned as a Washoe County sheriff's deputy.
Asked about the allegation, Kirkland angrily charged the association is wrong.
"If you print that, you're going to get into trouble because that's not true," he said.
He said he hired a specialist to fix delays causing the trooper shortage. He said it is now taking up to eight months to complete background checks required before new troopers can be hired.
He said he hired former Washoe sheriff's deputy Darryl Riersgard in a regular trooper's position and that he is not a retiree who is collecting both his new salary and PERS checks.
"He has a certain expertise," said Kirkland. "What we do with those people is none of your business and none of their business."
In fact, PERS confirmed Kirkland's statement that Riersgard is not "double dipping" his pension and salary. However, the state's Personnel Department confirmed Riersgard is assigned to one of the 10 highway patrol job slots specifically designated as "critical."
Kirkland later confirmed the position was one of the "critical posts," saying that was a mistake within his department and that Riersgard would be shifted to another designation and the specific trooper's position will be assigned to Las Vegas.
"I actually said 'Don't take any of them out of Las Vegas,' and they shouldn't have used (that position number). That will be fixed. We are committed to staffing the Las Vegas area and we will be putting those 10 positions in Vegas," he said.
A prime example, said Kirkland, is the plan to bring back an NHP pilot who is retiring after 30 years.
He also said because Riersgard isn't "double dipping," it makes no sense to waste one of those positions there instead of in Las Vegas where the need is critical.
Kirkland said one of NHP's biggest problems has been the delay between when someone applies and is accepted. The bottleneck, he said, is the extensive background investigation on each candidate.
Kirkland said doing those background checks has required up to 11 full-time troopers and 13,000 man-hours a year and still takes up to eight months.
He said Washoe County does it in four weeks and the Los Angeles Police Department in 14 days.
He said by the time NHP offers someone a job, they've already been working at Washoe, Las Vegas Metro or an agency like LAPD for several months.
Riersgard, he said, has "automated and put together a rejuvenated system to take an eight-month process and turn it into a one-month process using three or four full-time people instead of nine to 11."
Kirkland said his goal in hiring Riersgard is to fix the problem.
Handte said the association went to Guinn because they believe Riersgard's hiring is an example of Kirkland running roughshod over department policies.
He also made it clear the troopers didn't want ex-NHP chief Mike Hood to leave. He announced his resignation two weeks ago. And he charged that Kirkland has brought in other people and made promotions not consistent with NHP personnel rules and history.
"NHP is falling apart at the seams," he said. "Our chief has been run off. We as the highway patrol cannot continue to take the downward slide we're taking right now."
"We feel the rules are for us but not for Richard Kirkland," he said.
Kirkland said if they had come to him, they would have found out what was going on and that the idea is to get more troopers hired more quickly.
"These are police officers who are expected to know how to do an investigation," he said. "They didn't have the guts to come and raise this issue with any of the command officers. We're benefiting them getting people on quicker."