Updated April 28, 2020 - 3:57 pm
Nearly two months after the first reported coronavirus case in Nevada, the state Department of Public Safety does not have a plan in place “to keep officers safe” or a protocol established in the event of an outbreak among its peace officers, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has learned.
The alleged working conditions within the department — which oversees the Nevada Highway Patrol, the state’s Parole and Probation division and Nevada Capitol Police — were detailed in a six-page complaint filed Thursday by the Nevada Police Union with the state-run Employee-Management Relations Board.
“Presently, the officers and NPU members are in danger because the Nevada Department of Public Safety has failed to protect them and negotiate with NPU,” the complaint states. “There is no coherent plan and there is no consistency in providing training to NPU members. There is no plan to keep officers safe.”
As of Tuesday, 17 officers statewide with the Department of Public Safety had been tested for COVID-19, four of whom tested positive. Two of the infected officers were exposed in “non-work related environments,” according to the department. Nine of the tests came back negative, and results for the remaining tests are pending.
Sixteen more officers, who were not tested for the virus, have self-isolated at home following potential exposure, the department said.
In a statement Tuesday, the department told the Review-Journal: “The Nevada Department of Public Safety strongly disagrees with the allegations proposed in the complaint. The Department prioritizes the safety and well-being of all employees. The Department and its Divisions has communicated with, and provided direction to all staff from the onset of the very fluid and changing COVID-19 environment, and continues to communicate with all employees to provide updates, guidance, procedures, direction, and appropriate PPE.”
But according to Paul Klein, a spokesman and lobbyist for the union, the complaint was prompted after at least two failed attempts by the union, formerly the Nevada Highway Patrol Association, to negotiate with the department’s deputy director, Sheri Brueggemann, for safer working conditions.
“The safety of members is the Nevada Police Union’s top priority, and that is why a formal complaint was filed,” Klein told the Review-Journal on Monday. “Ultimately, the union is asking for communication, pandemic protocols and access to resources so they can keep police officers safe while they’re on the front lines keeping the public safe.”
Klein said that as the virus spread across the state, officers voiced concerns to the union about a lack of protocols to prevent exposure while on duty. According to the complaint, the department has not provided personal protective equipment or hand sanitizer and has failed to implement policies that align with COVID-19 safety guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as requiring employees to wear masks when in contact with coworkers and the public.
“Several attempts were made to share these concerns with department directors and collaborate on solutions, but they were ignored,” Klein said.
Efforts by the union to resolve these issues began in March, according to the complaint, when union President Matthew Kaplan reached out to Brueggemann, the deputy director.
Brueggemann “responded tersely” on April 6, the complaint states, refusing to communicate with Kaplan about current working conditions and instead directing Kaplan to discuss the matter with the department’s human resources division.
Attorneys for the union stepped in just over a week later, when they sent Brueggemann a letter demanding a plan of action and a meeting to discuss COVID-19 safety concerns.
The deputy director “never responded,” the complaint states.
“If, and when, an officer inevitably becomes ill because of inadequate protection and the Nevada Department of Public Safety’s failure to negotiate, there is no protocol for dealing with exposure,” the complaint states.
The department must respond to the complaint by May 14, according to the Employee-Management Relations Board.