Here's the essential question Proposition P is asking: Should we allow a permanent two tier system of police compensation, where police officers in St. Louis City are paid on average 20% less than those in St. Louis County? I say no. Residents of the City deserve a police department that is competitively paid and able to recruit and retain the best quality police officers. I'll be voting yes on Proposition P on November 7th.
What is Proposition P? Prop P is a .5% sales tax increase for the City of St. Louis which would fund increases in police salary and benefits, fire department salary and benefits, The Circuit Attorney's Office, and several smaller categories like building demolition and children's recreation programming. It will take 50% of voters to approve the tax increase in a Special Election on November 7th.
Why now? While the St. Louis County Police Department was already paying slightly higher salaries, County voters approved a similar Public Safety sales tax increase in April, primarily for substantial salary increases in the County police department and municipal police departments. When those salary increases take effect in January, what was a small disparity in pay will become a large one.
Issues like this crystallize why St. Louis and St. Louis County should be merged or joined in some way. Now is perhaps not the best time for the City to have a sales tax on the ballot that will mostly go to police salaries. But its also an urgent problem. Our backs are against the wall. If the tax fails, it will become much harder to hire and retain police in the City. So we have to put this on the ballot now, regardless of the timing. Would it have been better, much better, for the City and County to make this decision jointly, to put this on the ballot at the same time? Maybe even to put a smaller increase on the ballot? Yes to all of those things. But we are not merged. We live together, but make decisions separately that have strong effects on the other. So here we are. St. Louis County took a big step and gave large raises to police, and now we are forced to as well.
Beginning next year, the starting salary for a St. Louis County police officer will be $52,208. St. Louis City officers will be paid about $41,215 in their first year. That's an $11,000 pay disparity between City and County. St. Louis County Chief Jon Belmar has stated he intends to hire as many current St. Louis police officers as possible. The stark reality is that the job in St. Louis County is also less difficult than in St. Louis. $11,000 more in annual pay for an easier job? You can bet experienced St. Louis police will continue to migrate to jobs in St. Louis County.
The result is obvious. There will clearly be fewer, less experienced police working longer hours in the City if Proposition P doesn't pass. Today the St. Louis Police Department is already about 120 officers below budgeted strength due to attrition of officers leaving for higher pay and difficulty recruiting. The Ethical Society of Police reports that more minority officers have been leaving, resulting in a less diverse police force.
St. Louis has way too much crime - and effective policing is only one means to improving that situation. But if we create a long term, two tier system of lower paid, harder worked St. Louis City Police Officers, and higher paid County officers, we will never have the police department we deserve.
Serious crimes require more time of police officers. There are roughly 36 police officers working in St. Louis County for every homicide that occurs there, while there are only 6 in the City for every homicide. A high number of calls for service means more wait time when people call 911. Residents want quality service, fast responses, and crimes resolved. That will all become progressively harder when a move to the County will net an experienced St. Louis City police officer an $11,000+ annual raise. St. Louis WILL NOT have the best police force it can have if 90% of police officers in St. Louis County are better paid. Let's not let that happen. Residents in the City deserve a well trained, experienced, just, and responsive police department as much as anyone.
Vote Yes on Proposition P.