10 things to know about Atlanta’s public safety training center

Years in the making: In April 2021, then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a plan to build a police training facility as the city struggled to combat violent crime. Homicide rates surged by 58% in 2020 and Bottoms was heavily criticized for her administration’s response to what she called a “COVID crime wave.”

Who is the APF: The Atlanta Police Foundation is the powerful nonprofit involved in the private-public partnership with the city to build the training center. The APF leases the land, spearheads the project and is expected to cover two-thirds of the initial cost of construction through a loan and private fundraising.

South River Forest: The planned site of the training center is located on 380 acres of Atlanta-owned land in southwestern DeKalb County. The 85-acre facility off Key Road will sit inside the South River Forest — one of the largest urban forests in the region. The city has pledged to preserve the hundreds of acres of greenspace surrounding the construction site, but environmental activists worry about the negative impacts on the area.

A dark history: The site of the planned facility has previously hosted some police training activities like a firing range. But it may be most well known for its history as the old Atlanta Prison Farm. During the 20th century, inmates produced food for the region’s prison system.

Dickens support: Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens served on City Council at the time the body was considering the lease agreement for the public safety training center. He voted in favor of the proposal when it passed 10-4 in September 2021. Since elected as mayor, Dickens has stood adamantly behind the project. To quell public opposition, he created a new task force to give further input on the facility.

Failed challenges: A group of DeKalb County residents along with the South River Watershed Alliance have launched a series of challenges against the land disturbance permits for the constriction site issued by the county. They accused the city and county of overlooking existing restrictions on sediment discharges. But both a Zoning Board of Appeals challenge and a request for an injunction from a Fulton court failed and has now been appealed to the Superior Court of DeKalb County.

A fatal shooting: On Jan. 18, during what public safety officials call a “clearing operation” of protesters on the site, Georgia State troopers shot and killed 26-year-old environmental activist Manuel “Teran” Tortuguita. Official reports say that Teran shot at troopers first, an account that Teran’s family disputes. Georgia State troopers were not equipped with body cameras at the time, adding a layer of uncertainty of the events that took place.

Fiery protests: Nearly two dozen individuals were charged with domestic terrorism after a fiery protest broke out at the training center site in March. A large group dressed in all black threw rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and launched fireworks at officers, and set construction equipment on fire, according to police, who allege “bad actors” hid among attendees at a peaceful music festival on property next to the site.

Council in the spotlight: Current City Council members are will vote on funding for the project through legislation as soon as Monday. But the city’s financial obligation outlined to council is more than double the original price tag. The city of Atlanta was expected to cover one-third of the $90 million project while the police foundation covered the rest. But the financial deal up for debate includes both a one-time $31 million contribution and a 30-year $1.2 million annual lease back provision.

Far from the end: Site clearing for the facility has been underway despite public opposition. Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said he is confident that the department will officially move into the space by the end of 2024. Construction for the eastern side of the site is tentatively set for Aug. 29, and for the west side on Oct. 16, according to Atlanta Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee documents.

Originally published as 10 things to know about Atlanta’s public safety training center