St. Louis voters approve police pay raise measure
ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis voters on Tuesday approved a half-cent sales tax increase to fund pay raises for police, even amid lingering anger at police over their handling of recent protests.
Proposition P passed with about 60 percent of the vote. The measure also will raise salaries for firefighters.
The Sept. 15 acquittal of white former police officer Jason Stockley in the shooting death of a black suspect led to angry protests, and while the size of the demonstrations has dwindled, disruptions continue. More than 300 people have been arrested, with several alleging officers used unnecessary tear gas, pepper spray and force.
Supporters of Proposition P, including Mayor Lyda Krewson, said it was necessary to pay competitive wages to the approximate 1,200 police officers along with firefighters.
“By passing Prop P we took a step toward making a safer St. Louis a reality,” Krewson said in a statement.
Opponents of the ballot measure questioned if police deserve a raise given the recent allegations of misconduct.
In an editorial opposing the ballot measure posted Thursday, the African-American newspaper the St. Louis American cited the mass arrest of about 120 people following a heated downtown protest on Sept. 17.
The editorial said officers “infamously trampled over constitutional rights on a night officers marched through the streets with paramilitary equipment,” and Interim Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole declared that police “owned the night.”
“In any other line of work, an employee this negligent of duty and offensive to the public who pays his salary would be fired — not offered millions of dollars to expand his kingdom,” the American wrote.
Violent crime has risen in recent years in St. Louis, a city nearly evenly split between black and white residents. Race relations have strained, too, following several police-involved shooting deaths of black suspects, reaching a boiling point after Stockley’s acquittal of first-degree murder charges in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith.
Opponents also said the sales tax hike would disproportionally hurt the needy, who spend a higher percentage of their money on necessities.
Krewson and other supporters worried that without raises city officers will increasingly look to take jobs in St. Louis County. Just last week, the county council approved a pay hike that will amount to an immediate 30 percent average increase for county officers. The money comes from a similar ballot measure approved by county voters in April.
St. Louis County officers will now start at $52,000, about $10,000 more than the starting pay for city officers.
“Because of your vote today, our women and men in uniform will get a much-deserved raise, making their salaries competitive with officers in the county, and making sure that we can attract and retain the best officers,” Krewson said in the statement.
The ballot proposal is expected to generate about $20 million in revenue each year, allowing for an average raise of up to $6,000 per officer. The median salary in St. Louis is around $51,600.
About $13 million will go to police, $5.4 million to the fire department and $1.5 million to the circuit attorney’s office.
The tax increase also triggers an increase in a business use tax, bringing in $4 million. Krewson wants to use that money for crime prevention efforts such as after-school programs and mental health services.