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City surveys reveal ‘low morale,’ ‘poor leadership’ at Reno Police Department

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Additional reporting by Bob Conrad

Low staffing levels and political agendas are two problems within the Reno Police Department. That’s according to concerns identified by community members and RPD employees in two recent surveys conducted as part of a search for the department’s new chief. 

The surveys were developed and analyzed by Ralph Andersen, an executive search firm tasked with helping to replace Chief Jason Soto, who is set to retire in January 2023.

The internal department survey included responses from 128 of RPD’s staff – officers, command staff and civilians. It revealed that employees have mixed feelings about the department, with some citing low morale, burnout and staffing shortages.

“There is a sense that officers and civilian staff do their best with what they’ve perceived as poor leadership and a lack of resources, as well as a lack of respect from the community and City leadership,” according to a summary of the survey responses. 

Reno Police Chief Jason Soto provides media with a tour of Reno's new Public Safety Center, planned for 911 Kuenzli St. in Reno, Nev. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno
Reno Police Chief Jason Soto provides media with a tour of Reno’s new Public Safety Center, planned for 911 Kuenzli St. in Reno, Nev. on May 27, 2021. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno

The report goes on to note, “A majority of participants would like the City to select the next Chief from outside of the Department, indicating a lack of trust in the existing command staff.”

City officials said they’d received 49 applications from across the country for the Chief position and narrowed the pool to seven who will be interviewed beginning this week. City spokesperson Cassie Harris said it was too early in the process for the city to reveal any details about the candidates, such as where they are from and if any were internal candidates.

In the community survey, respondents rated accountability and integrity as top qualifications for a new police chief, and said they wanted someone who was a good communicator, interested in engaging with the community and who could do the job and remain apolitical. 

“According to several participants, the Chief should prioritize supporting officers through ongoing social reform while also holding officers accountable,” a summary of the community survey stated.

Nearly 48% of RPD employees who responded to the survey also said they felt Reno was less safe than other nearby communities. About 20% felt their level of training was poor, not going beyond minimum standards, and nearly 18% said the quality of equipment, especially technology items, was also poor. 

“Civilian staff described feeling that they are often the last to receive new equipment,” the report stated.

Reno City Council members in October approved spending $11.5 million on new technology for RPD, including body worn cameras, Tasers, fleet video, cloud storage, virtual reality training, redaction assistant and other software.

The survey results come in the wake of a $70,000 audit of RPD, first reported by This Is Reno, that highlighted problems within the department

That audit found RPD “provides quality law enforcement services” but called out the department for numerous deficiencies auditors said were primarily because of a lack of staffing and resources.

Auditors said the department lacks the ability to isolate data related to calls for mental health issues and “excessively long response times to high-priority calls.” 

Internal communications were cited as “a major organizational impediment” and lack of security at evidence locations was cited as risky – though the auditors noted RPD’s new public safety center will house evidence in the future.

RPD’s Commercial Road evidence location, where RPD stores vehicles used in crimes, prompted the auditors to say the location was insecure after it was burglarized.

“The building must be examined for areas that potentially allow for easy illegal entry by using little or no force,” auditors noted. “These security measures must be addressed immediately to avoid further burglaries.”

Read the audit below

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Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.

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