ST. LOUIS • In 15 days, city voters will be asked to weigh in on a half-cent sales tax increase so the city’s police force can get a raise.
The timing of the Nov. 7 special election could make its passage a challenge, with the St. Louis Police Department facing criticism and lawsuits over its handling of the recent unrest in the city in the wake of the Jason Stockley verdict.
Some of those protesting the acquittal of Stockley, a former police officer charged in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black drug suspect, allege officers have used heavy-handed tactics such as spraying demonstrators with pepper spray while their hands were tied around their backs. Police officials testifying in a lawsuit Thursday denied violating the rights of protesters or others and said that their orders to disperse “unlawful assemblies” were legal and proper
Amid the rising tension, Mayor Lyda Krewson, said that investing more money in police officers would be key to making the department better.
National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization
The Rev. Dinah Tatman weeps during a "die-in" protest outside St. Louis Police Headquarters on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017. More than 200 demonstrators gathered to participate in the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, firstname.lastname@example.org
“I think that it’s certainly possible to support our police and also understand what some of the protesters are saying,” Krewson said in a segment on KTRS-AM 550 on Friday. “These two things are not mutually exclusive.”
Beyond questioning the recent conduct of the police department, opponents of the plan argue that St. Louis residents already are taxed enough. The sales tax increase that is proposed would bring the rate up to at least 9.7 percent; the rate would be higher in special taxing districts.
Supporters of Proposition P — including Krewson and the St. Louis Police Officers Association — fear that without raises, city police officers will flee to the county, which signed off on an identical sales tax increase in April for its police force.
“We need to be able to pay competitive wages in order to attract and retain well-trained police officers and firefighters,” Krewson said in a statement to the Post-Dispatch on Friday.
Krewson was an early and vocal advocate for the proposal, which would bring in roughly $20 million in revenue annually, two-thirds of which would go to the police department, $5.4 million to the fire department and $1.5 million to the Circuit Attorney’s office.
If approved, the new sales tax increase will also trigger an increase in the business use tax, bringing in $4 million that Krewson wants spent on crime prevention initiatives, such as after-school programs, mental health services, social workers and demolition of vacant buildings.
The St. Louis Police Officers Association, which represents about 1,100 rank-and-file officers, wasn’t so quick to get on board. When the Board of Aldermen approved the plan in July, the union raised concerns that there was no language in the bill guaranteeing the $13 million earmarked for police raises.
That’s no longer a problem, said the union’s spokesman, Jeff Roorda, because the potential $6,000 salary increase per officer has been negotiated into the officers’ contract with the city. The union has now publicly endorsed the measure.
Meanwhile, Citizens for a Safer St. Louis, a political action committee advocating for the measure’s passage, reported more than $300,000 in fundraising last week, and released an ad Thursday featuring supporters of the proposition.
According to records from the Missouri Ethics Commission, Centene and the Regional Business Council gave $100,000 each. Civic Progress donated $125,000 to the effort, and the St. Louis Police Foundation, a Clayton-based nonprofit, gave $50,000.