May 25, 2023 - News

City backs $30 million toward "Cop City" project

Illustration of a bullhorn with a "no" symbol across the front of the horn.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

A proposal to allocate millions of dollars toward the construction of a controversial public safety center has taken another step forward.

Driving the news: The Atlanta City Council’s Finance/Executive Committee on Wednesday voted to approve contributing $30 million toward the project.

Why it matters: Over the last year, people nationwide have mobilized to express opposition to the project dubbed "Cop City" by critics. Opponents say the facility will militarize a police force that's more likely to target Atlanta's Black and brown communities.

  • Nearly 300 people showed up to Atlanta City Hall last week to speak out against the project's funding.
  • City leaders have said the facility is needed so officers and firefighters can train closer to home and be better equipped to respond to incidents.
  • If constructed, the city could start using the facility by December 2024, police chief Darin Schierbaum told the AJC.

What they're saying: About 30 people spoke at Wednesday's committee meeting. Only one person, Nate Bailey, spoke in favor of the proposal. Bailey, president of the Atlanta Professional Firefighters organization, said the city "deserves expert-level firefighters."

  • "Our citizens and visitors deserve the very best fire department, and to be the best we must have a world-class training center," he said.

The other side: Several speakers said the city should instead invest the $30 million in education, jobs, affordable housing and efforts to fight homelessness.

  • Resident Gloria Tatum said police officers need more accountability and de-escalation tactics.
  • Devin Barrington-Ward said council members would have to contend with the political consequences if they approved the funding.
  • "There will be consequences, and so you all just have to ask the question on whether or not what side of history you want to land on," he said.

Of note: LaChandra Burks, deputy chief operating officer for Mayor Andre Dickens' office, said the site will have "simulator buildings" showing homes, clubs, restaurants and a hotel or apartment that will allow officers and firefighters to train based on real-life scenarios.

  • The project will also contain a course where first responders can learn how to operate their vehicles.
  • Right now, officers have to travel an hour and a half away to learn how to drive their patrol cars while firefighters learn how to operate trucks at night, Burks said.
  • She told Council members that no agreements have been formed at this time that would allow agencies outside of Atlanta to use the training center.

Before the vote was taken, council member Alex Wan called for the city to have a representative join the Atlanta Police Foundation's board "as a way to improve that relationship and be more transparent."

Council member Liliana Bakhtiari, who was the only person to vote against the request, said the last few weeks have shown that the community feels helpless.

  • "Democracy is an incredibly fragile thing, and when I hear the community say that they feel helpless, it worries me because when people feel helpless, they take law and order and life into their own hands," she said. "And the very thing we claim to want to prevent we create."

What we're watching: The full City Council will vote on the request at its June 5 meeting.

Editor's note: The charitable foundation of Cox Enterprises and its leadership have financially supported the project. Cox owns Axios.

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