Feb 1, 2023 - News

"Cop City" gets a green light

Map of the proposed public safety training complex and adjacent greenspace. Photo: Courtesy of City of Atlanta

DeKalb County has approved the stalled land development permit for the controversial public safety training complex dubbed "Cop City" by what's become a national protest movement.

  • That's after 11 months of analysis and an agreement between Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond regarding the project's parameters and details.

Why it matters: Protests about the project have recently escalated into violence between law enforcement and activists trying to stop its construction. Some protest the environmental effects on the forested south DeKalb County land — and others more because of a broader criticism of police brutality.

Catch up quick: Manuel Esteban Paez Terán was shot and killed last month by a Georgia state trooper during a "clearing operation" at the site. State law enforcement says the trooper was returning fire at Terán, who went by Tortuguita.

What's happening: The agreement, which Thurmond called a "compromise solution," has taken into account some requests from a community advisory committee created by Atlanta City Council featuring members from the city and unincorporated DeKalb.

  • Those include a 100-foot tree buffer between the training facility and adjacent residences, eliminating an explosives range, relocation of a firing range away from residences, and ideas for the nearly 300-acre public greenspace including sidewalks, lighting and public parking.

The other side: In response, the Defend the Atlanta Forest collective said in a statement "nothing is over" and decried the agreement as "empty rhetoric to cover over the undemocratic railroading of this project on to un-represented, disenfranchised residents of Atlanta and Dekalb County."

  • In a statement, the Sierra Club of Georgia director Gina Webber also criticized the news and called on the city to cancel the lease: "The forest is too important to the health of our communities to destroy even a portion of it."
View of the training complex site. Photo: Courtesy of City of Atlanta

Zoom in: Dickens told reporters at a press conference Tuesday that the 85-acre training site will be on land long-cleared of hardwood trees that's "dominated" by invasive species. However, he said, the developer has committed to planting 100 hardwood trees on the site or off for any cut down in the process.

  • The new greenspace will amount to among the city's largest parks, Dickens said.

Yes, and: The parcel has long been the centerpiece of a vision to build a 3,500-acre forest park in the area.

The big picture: Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said right now the force has to borrow training space from other jurisdictions or pay to rent space. The city's fire safety department is reliant on classroom-based instruction in a condemned elementary school and has no dedicated space to train drivers, Atlanta Fire Chief Rod Smith said.

  • Schierbaum said a more convenient training facility is vital to the force. "The skill that [officers] have to save a life, to stop a crime, to build community trust does not come from a uniform. It comes from training. Realistic, repetitive, first-class, 21st-century training," he said.

What they're saying: "This will be a place where community policing, where collaboration between fire and police can happen and where all the things that in 2020 the nation including this city, including this former city council member, called for," Dickens said.

Flashback: Then-Councilman Dickens voted to hold back some of the Atlanta police department's budget in 2020 until a plan for a new culture of policing was worked out.

What we're watching: While there’s no timeline yet for construction, Thurmond reminded reporters that the county will "continue to be an aggressive and engaged steward of the South River Forest. This is the beginning of a process and not the end," he said.

Meanwhile, “Defend the Atlanta Forest” has called for a week of protests in mid-February.

  • Schierbaum told reporters no protestors were occupying the forest as of Tuesday.

Editor's note: Cox Enterprises president and CEO Alex Taylor, a former chair of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, led a campaign to raise private funds for the project. Cox owns Axios.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Atlanta.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Atlanta stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Atlanta.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more