An investigation conducted by WBZ-TV in Boston found that the city paid out $5 million over the past three years to employees who were on administrative leave while under investigation for misconduct or facing criminal charges.
The employee who received the largest payout during that period was a former Boston police lieutenant John Earley, who collected over $355,000 while on leave awaiting the Boston Police Department's internal investigation into allegations that he left the scene of an accident in 2015.
Charges against the officer were dismissed by a judge, but Earley remained on leave until the conclusion of BPD's probe. He was eventually fired in July 2017.
WBZ's investigation showed that the average time spent on paid leave by Boston employees was roughly nine months, with the average amount of $72,000 in salary collected by each worker.
A research director at the Pioneer Insitute, Greg Sullivan, said of the findings, "The most surprising thing is the amount of money involved. It's very shocking to see. The real victim here is the taxpayer."
Sullivan pointed to the case of another Boston police officer who was put on paid leave after allegedly pointing a gun at neighbors, collecting $291,457 over four years. Dragging out investigations is part of the problem, Sullivan says: "You do something wrong, but you don't feel the penalty for a long time. And while you're waiting, the checks keep coming."
Boston isn't the only city that has paid a high price for suspended public employees. Cities in Pima County, Arizona gave taxpayers sticker-shock when a 2013 investigation found that $1.2 million was paid out to workers awaiting disciplinary action over the course of three years.
But laws giving protection to government employees tie the hands of municipalities. Vail superintendent Calvin Baker said, "We can't do Donald Trump and say, 'You're fired.' If you put someone on unpaid leave, you're punishing them before you started the investigation. It's in line with the American principle of where you're innocent until proven guilty."
A Northern Arizona University political science and public administration professor Zachary Smith pointed out: "Public employees have a number of advantages that private employees don't have."
The problem is also prevalent at the federal level. In 2014, a three-year study showed that over 57,000 federal workers collected over $775 million in salaries while on paid leave. But according to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) at the time of such extended leave periods, "It's not authorized by any law. Bureaucrats are abusing it."