The Prop P referendum passed in St. Louis, meaning police and firefighters will get a pay increase, and the city’s sales tax will increase by a half-cent.
The tax increase passed with roughly 60 percent of the vote. Only about 20 percent of registered voters chose to vote for the referendum.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said by passing Prop P, citizens took a step toward “making a safer St. Louis a reality.”
“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 a statement. “I recognize we can’t arrest our way to a safer city, and I’m thrilled that voters agree. Passing Prop P means we can make significant investments on the prevention side, with funding for afterschool and summer job programs, recreation, social and mental health services and also demolishing vacant buildings.”
The half-cent sales tax increase was endorsed by the St. Louis police union after the city agreed to a $10,000 increase in police officers’ salaries.
Krewson had promised the funds would go toward public safety amid concerns that nothing would prevent the funds from being shifted elsewhere, but it’s the pay raise for St. Louis police that seems to draw the greatest focus. Activist Glenn Burleigh, writing against Prop P in the Riverfront Times, argued that the city should put together a plan of police department reform and legally enforceable routes for the funding before it should be approved.
SLMPD faces extensive criticism and lawsuits over its handling of the recent protests in the wake of the Jason Stockley verdict, in which a former officer was acquitted of murder in the December 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Protesters allege that officers used heavy-handed tactics, spraying demonstrators while their hands were tied behind their backs and arresting credentialed journalists who were observing the protests.
Krewson argued that supporting the police and listening to the protesters were “not mutually exclusive.” “We need to be able to pay competitive wages in order to attract and retain well-trained police officers and firefighters,” Krewson said.
Meanwhile, police officer and attorney Sgt. Don Re wrote a guest column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in favor of the proposition, stating that much of the opposition is out of “spite,” and that police officers must deal with “the city’s culture” every day.
“That culture has become one of unattended mental illness, drug abuse, rampant violence and just plain stupid behavior that is oftentimes beyond mind-blowing,” he wrote. “And yet we’re expected to remain courteous and respectful at all times. For the most part we are, but courteous police service isn’t newsworthy. To punish an entire group based on the wrongs and perceived wrongs of a few is unfair. Far from being oppressors, we welcome diversity and deal openly with it every single day, good, bad and otherwise.”
The Post-Dispatch itself endorsed the proposition on its editorial page, citing a 30-percent pay gap between city and county police officers. The county approved an identical sales tax increase in April for its police force.
The measure is expected to bring in about $20 million a year, of which two-thirds would go to SLMPD, $5.4 million to the fire department and $1.5 million to the Circuit Attorney’s Office.