ST. LOUIS — Voters in St. Louis will soon be asked to weigh in on a half-cent sales tax increase that would be used to give officers a raise.

The timing of the Nov. 7 special election could make the vote’s passage a challenge as St. Louis police face criticism and lawsuits over its handling of recent protests. The protests followed last month’s acquittal of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis officer who fatally shot a man, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .

Some people protesting the acquittal of Stockley, who was charged in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith, alleged officers have used heavy-handed tactics such as beating and spraying demonstrators with pepper spray while their hands were tied.

Police officials testifying in a lawsuit last week denied violating protesters’ rights and said their orders to disperse “unlawful assemblies” were legal and proper.

Mayor Lyda Krewson said investing money in police officers is key to bettering the department.

“I think that it’s certainly possible to support our police and also understand what some of the protesters are saying,” Krewson said. “These two things are not mutually exclusive.”

Supporters of the tax increase said that without raises, city police officers will move to the county, which passed an identical sales tax increase in April for its police.

“We need to be able to pay competitive wages in order to attract and retain well-trained police officers and firefighters,” Krewson said.

The sales tax increase would also trigger an increase in the business use tax, which will bring in $4 million that Krewson wants spent on crime prevention initiatives like after-school programs, mental health services, social workers and demolition of vacant buildings.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com