Proposition P rewards the poorly performing SLMPD with a raise for every officer
This Tuesday, the residents of the City of St. Louis will be faced with an important choice, a choice that will help shape the future of the city for years to come. With the exception of those living in the 2nd Ward, where they will be voting on their next Alderperson, there will be only one choice on the ballot; Proposition P. If passed, Prop. P will add an additional 0.5 percent sales tax across the city to fund a variety of programs and departments, 65% of which would be going to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. While giving firemen raises and funding after-school and mental health programs is certainly important, let’s be clear here; this Proposition is about raises for police officers, first and foremost, and it will be seen as a referendum on our police department. The actions of the SLMPD over the past several months towards the protest movement should be reason enough to vote NO on November 7th, but there are many reasons why a ‘no’ vote is justified.
The poorest residents of STL will shoulder the largest burden for this SLMPD raise
If this tax passes, St. Louis will have the third-highest sales tax rate in the nation. When combined with special taxing districts like CIDs and TDDs, some parts of the city will have a sales tax just under 12%. While this city continues to throw tax abatements and other incentives at developers building high-end housing, those in charge continue to place the burden of funding city services on the poorest in the region. While the top 5% of income earners pay, on average, under 2% of their wages towards sales and excise taxes, the bottom 20% of Missouri residents pay close to 6% of their income on them.
Using sales tax revenues on services like transit, health care, housing and after school programs provides a benefit to those impacted the most. Spending those funds on the current arrest and incarcerate model of public safety will only add burdens on the people who can least afford it. By definition, the police do not prevent crimes, they react to them. It’s time we started directing resources where they can be most effective. After years of spending more money and arresting more people, very few could argue it has been successful in achieving its goals. It has, however, been very successful at targeting people of color, people with fewer financial resources, the mentally disadvantaged, and many others. This arrest & incarcerate approach to social issues within the St. Louis region has only exacerbated the problems rooted in prejudiced, often racist, policies in place for centuries.
Like the rest of us, SLMPD should be asked to do more with less
While 35% of the revenues will go towards the Fire Department, Circuit Attorney’s office, and a variety of programs that would be beneficial to the community, this tax is about one thing, the SLMPD. The City’s General Fund budget was $511M in 2017. Roughly $200M of that is spent between the Police Department, its retirement system, and our two city jails: the City Justice Center and the MSI, known as “The Workhouse.” Add to that, an additional $32M budgeted from Special Revenue Funds and Grants, we spend over $230M per year on this model of arrest and incarcerate. Based on 2016 Census estimates, the City of St. Louis currently has just over 311,000 residents, meaning we spend close to $750 per person on policing. With so much money already being spent, the City’s residents deserve an explanation from its leadership as to how they can be in favor of Proposition P when money to the SLMPD in the past has not reduced crime or done anything to get at the root causes.
Millions are already spent on militarizing the SLMPD
What we have received for that money is a militarized police force detached from its community. We have a police department that prioritizes its spending on shields and body armor, chemical weapons, high-tech equipment and monitoring devices, or on military-style training from companies like 0311 Tactical, instead of on the raises they claim would make the department so much better. We have received a police department that has killed 8 people in 2017 alone, and has one of the highest rates of killing civilians of any city in the nation. We have a police department that wastes resources following non-violent protests led by elected officials, clergy, activists and other passionate residents, and then later attends neighborhood meetings to explain that that is the reason they do not respond to their calls and why they need even more of the citizens money. If the raises would do all of the things they claim, things like adding diversity or, in their words, “attract and retain high-quality police officers,” then perhaps they should have done that first?
The St. Louis Police Officer’s Association, known for its disgusting business manager (and a Democratic candidate for Jefferson County Executive in 2018), Jeff Roorda, released a statement in July stating their opposition to this Proposition. In that statement from the SLPOA Executive Board, they claim “we’re not going to spend our political capital to pass another sales tax where—at best—only about 1/3 of the money will be for police raises….without any guarantee. We will not mislead voters that this is pro-police measure. To accept the terms currently offered by the Mayor would be a slap in the face to every member and would be nothing more than a lie to the voters we are sworn to protect and serve. We will stand firm.” Just under four months later, they do stand firm, but in favor of this proposition, one that has not changed since this statement was released. Their opposition is that some of the funds were actually going to help fund after-school programs, recreation, social work and mental health programs that would actually help begin to invest in our communities. They were in opposition because all of it was not being directed to them.
A full audit of SLMPD finances is needed before a decision to give police more money can be made
Over the next several months, St. Louis residents who have formed the organization, Audit STL, will be collecting signatures that will trigger an audit by Nicole Galloway, the State Auditor. It will be the first time the SLMPD will have been audited since the citizens gained local control in 2013, and could uncover other issues and inefficiencies, such as the one uncovered in an audit of the overtime program by Comptroller Darlene Green, where she discovered over 300,000 hours of undocumented overtime in just one year. Once we have a full understanding of how this budget is being used, it will be up to the leadership of this city to have an honest conversation about the best ways to improve the lives of all of it’s residents.
This vote will be a referendum on the “easy” options from our Mayor and Board of Aldermen, a referendum on yet another regressive sales tax, and it will most certainly be a referendum on the behavior of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and how it spends its money; how it treats its citizens, journalists and legal observers; how it treats pastors and elected officials; how it treats the disabled, the poor, the homeless, the disadvantaged; how it treats the people in its custody and how it treats its black residents and black officers. All of these things should be on the mind of every registered voter in the City of St. Louis on Tuesday. It is time for the residents of this city to come together and demand better solutions, demand a more responsible government and a police department that serves and protects all of the people in this city, not just a handful at the expense of so many others. It is time for St. Louis to turn out on Tuesday, November 7th, and send a message with a loud and resounding defeat of Proposition P. It is time to vote NO on Prop P.
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