Are you concerned about cops with a history of misconduct on the police force? Chances are you are paying to keep them on.

It’s increasingly clear that a small percentage of police officers who have committed misconduct remain on the force when they should have been pushed out long ago. Derek Chauvin, the officer charged with killing George Floyd, had 17 misconduct complaints filed against him in 18 years. Had appropriate action been taken beforehand to identify and remove cops like Chauvin, tragedies like we witnessed in Minneapolis may have been avoided.

The reason bad police officers are so hard to discipline is because they enjoy unique benefits in union contracts that few employees have. These include disciplinary processes that make it virtually impossible to fire them, and difficult to even punish them. Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo has described employment provisions in union contracts as “debilitating.”

What’s more, union representatives negotiating for those provisions and representing officers subject to disciplinary proceedings are often not paid by the union, but instead by you, the taxpayer. Under a practice called union “release time,” government agencies, including law enforcement agencies, allow public employees to be released from the jobs for which they were hired and instead be assigned to work full-time for a private union—all while receiving full government pay, benefits, and retirement.

Police officers suspected of misconduct are subject to internal disciplinary proceedings. The rules of those proceedings, often negotiated as part of collective bargaining agreements by union officials on release time, ensure that it is nearly impossible to discipline bad actors.

Worse still, union officials on release time provide representation for officers accused of misconduct. This means that taxpayers are literally footing the bill to both set up a system that makes it nearly impossible to punish bad officers and then pay for the representation of officers accused of misconduct to keep them on the force.

Release time exists in states and municipalities throughout the country, including here in Austin, where at least three separate unions have generous paid release time from the city. The Goldwater Institute and the Texas Public Policy Foundation are representing taxpayers in a challenge to release time expenditures by the city to the Austin Firefighters Association. In that case, the union president is released full-time from his firefighting duties to work exclusively for the union, and has been for many years. The fire department then gives the union the equivalent of three other full-time workers. The case is scheduled for trial in December.

Release time is particularly generous for police unions. In one case litigated by the Goldwater Institute, the city of Phoenix had six full-time police officers who performed work exclusively for their labor union, while receiving taxpayer-funded salaries and benefits. Some had been working for the union for so long that when the court issued an order sending them back to patrol positions, the department required them to report first to the police academy to relearn basic law enforcement skills.

Release time is a practice that should not be in place—private union activities should be paid by private union dues, not by the taxpayer. Furthermore, in many cases, release time results in practices that don’t protect the public’s health or safety—and may even be adverse to it.

Police officers suspected of misconduct deserve due process and a fair hearing. But they shouldn’t receive special treatment that few others receive and that makes it nearly impossible to punish those who have committed misconduct or have a history of bad behavior. The public expects excellence from its law enforcement officers. They don’t expect to foot the bill to keep officers around when they—for example—have 17 complaints filed against them.