In a highly anticipated vote, Atlanta lawmakers were expected to decide Monday whether to move forward with a controversial plan to build a massive public safety training center, dubbed “Cop City” by opponents.
But the vote did not happen Monday, as hundreds of speeches from the public, many emotional and most opposed to the development, continued into the early hours of Tuesday.
The Atlanta City Council was to finally decide whether to allocate $30 million to help build the $90-million, 85-acre facility where police, firefighters and emergency responders would train.
The vote comes after years of fierce opposition from protesters who worry the proposed campus could negatively impact the environment and be used by police to “practice urban warfare.”
In January, officers fatally shot a 26-year-old environmental activist as workers across several agencies tried to clear out the site. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, known as Tortuguita, shot at officers first without warning, wounding a state trooper.
Days later, a vigil in Atlanta honoring the slain activist ended in property damage and several arrests.
More than 350 people had signed up to give remarks during a public comment period ahead of the vote.
In the first few hours, the vast majority of the testimonies were from people against the facility. Many said the center would not make the city safer but would perpetuate military-style policing and encourage use of force.
The council voted to amend its agenda to allow more people who missed the sign-up period to speak.
In anticipation of the vote, officials closed several City Hall offices for the day, moved services online and issued a temporary ban on liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes from being carried into the building “due to increased security concerns.”
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said a vote in the affirmative would mean taxpayers will pay less than the city previously agreed upon. If greenlighted, the legislation would allow the city to consolidate multiple leases it currently pays for “suboptimal” training facilities that police and firefighters use separately. Such a move would save the city $200,000 annually or $6 million over 30 years, Dickens’ office said in a news release.
The Atlanta Police Foundation, the independent nonprofit group spearheading the project, has said it would privately raise the rest of the money needed to fund construction through philanthropic and corporate donations.
The proposed project includes creating a “mock city” for police and firefighter trainees, a shooting range and an emergency vehicle operations course, which would be a first for both the police and fire rescue departments, the Atlanta Police Foundation said.
The group said the new campus is necessary because current training facilities “fail to meet the training needs required of a major urban law enforcement agency,” which it said ultimately worsens morale, recruitment and retention issues.
The project would be built on a parcel of land that the city of Atlanta owns in unincorporated DeKalb County, around Intrenchment Creek and the South River Forest Basin.
The land is known as the Old Atlanta Prison Farm, where prisoners labored in poor working conditions for much of the 20th century. It is the only city-owned area large enough for such a project, the Atlanta Police Foundation said.
The group said it will not have to cut down acres of trees because the targeted parcel of land, which was cleared decades ago, does not currently have significant tree cover. The tree cover that does exist, it said, is overwhelmingly dominated by invasive species.
The Atlanta Police Foundation pledged to replace any hardwood tree destroyed in construction with 100 new ones. Nearly 300 acres will be preserved as green space, parkland and trails, it added.
The Atlanta City Council first approved the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center in 2021, following anti-police violence protests. City officials said the new center would be integral to the reforms residents had been demanding, but protesters have been staunchly opposed.
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