Atlanta City Council approves funding for public safety training center

Atlanta city council approves training center funding after hours-long meeting
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 5:29 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 6, 2023 at 12:26 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - After a marathon 16 1/2-hour meeting that featured seemingly endless public comments, mostly from opponents, Atlanta City Council members gave final approval Tuesday to a funding package the build the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.

The council voted 11-4 in favor of the funding just before 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday. The four “no” votes were Jason Dozier, Liliana Bakhtiari, Antonio Lewis, and Keisha Waites.

Many critics of the facility derisively call it “Cop City.” The vote came after several hours of public comment; more than 350 people spoke on the project during the public comment period.

The $90 million facility is expected to cost Atlanta taxpayers as much as $67 million, which includes a lease-back agreement worth $1.2 million a year for 30 years to ensure the City of Atlanta remains the owner of the property. After the 30-year period, the city will own the facility outright. The Atlanta Police Foundation will finance the rest of the funding.

Deputy Chief Operating Officer for the City of Atlanta LaChandra Burks said the city currently pays $1.4 million a year in operational fees at a hodge-podge of buildings used for training police officers and firefighters. Those facilities will no longer be needed.

The Atlanta Public Safety Training Center | A timeline of violence, controversy

The facility will be on 85 acres of city-owned forest in DeKalb County which was once home to the old Atlanta prison farm. The Atlanta Police Foundation says firefighters and first responders will also use the site which will include a 12-acre emergency vehicle operations course and a mock city for real-world training.

Opponents of the facility worry about the militarization of police and what they claim is the destruction of one of the last green spaces in the area. Activists frequently occupied the site, living in tents and encampments in the forest.

Police cleared out the encampments multiple times. During one of the sweeps, protestor Manuel “Tortugita” Teran was killed during a shootout with Georgia State Patrol officers. An independent autopsy revealed that Teran’s body had 57 gunshot wounds. The incident was not recorded on body cameras, which led the Atlanta City Council to pass a resolution urging state lawmakers to mandate body cameras for state troopers.

Protests turned violent again in March after a charity concert at the site. Twenty-three people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism after they allegedly threw rocks, bricks and Molotov cocktails at police officers following the concert. The violence damaged construction equipment and injured at least one officer.

Three activists were charged with money laundering and charity fraud in connection with a bail fund set up to post bail for protestors arrested due to activities surrounding the facility.

Mayor Andre Dickens issued the following statement after the public safety training center vote.

“This morning’s vote approving the budget resolution for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center marks a major milestone for better preparing our fire, police and emergency responders to protect and serve our communities. It also helps us look towards the north star of leading the country in anti-bias training, de-escalation techniques and other community-based solutions to keep our city safe and focused on our citizens. Atlanta will be a national model for police reform with the most progressive training and curriculum in the country,” Dickens said.

The mayor thanked all who serve on a committee, task force or have weighed in on this issue, especially those who came to City Hall, for exercising their voice and their First Amendment rights in a peaceful manner. He also thanked the City Council for their commitment to the people of Atlanta.

“Atlanta is made up of people who care, and I will continue to work with all Atlantans to develop a comprehensive approach to keep our city safe,” he said.

Mayor Dickens went on to say the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center will allow us to recruit, retain and prepare our fire-rescue, police, and emergency medical personnel to better serve the diverse, vibrant, and unique neighborhoods that comprise our busy, international city.

“I know there is more work to be done and I am committed to building trust, and my administration looks forward to continuing the conversation in the weeks ahead,” he said.

Councilmember Keisha Waites also issued a statement after the vote to clarify her no vote.

The soft opening for the facility is currently set for Dec. 20.