Atlanta mayor touts plans to open new police training center

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently shared more details on plans to build a new police academy as the city tries to combat rising crime numbers.
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Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently shared more details on plans to build a new police academy as the city tries to combat rising crime numbers.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently shared more details on plans to build a new police academy as the city tries to combat rising crime numbers.

On Thursday, Bottoms told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she wants to build the Atlanta Public Safety Training Academy using 150 acres at the old Atlanta Prison Farm, located just east of the city of Atlanta in unincorporated DeKalb County. The city-owned land would host a center that supports officers as well as fire department personnel, Bottoms said, adding that the building would raise morale and attract new officers.

“If we want the best, most well-trained officers protecting our communities, then we have to make sure we have a facility that offers that,” Bottoms said.

The mayor spoke with the AJC minutes after her participation in a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new community center in the Pittsburgh neighborhood. After the ceremony, she engaged in a lengthy discussion about the future training academy with Dave Wilkinson, president of the Atlanta Police Foundation.

Describing it as “a beacon for what we call 21st Century policing,” Wilkinson told the AJC the center would be built out in phases. Although he hopes officers will receive training at the building within two years, he stressed the facility will be more than a regional training center.

“It’s going to be a game changer,” Wilkinson said. “The priority is it’s going to be the place where the community and the police come together.”

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Plans for a new center come amidst this year’s mayoral election, and the Bottoms administration has received criticism for its response to crime. Homicides surged 58% last year, but Bottoms attributes the spike to the coronavirus pandemic, calling gun violence and aggravated assaults “a COVID crime wave.”

The mayor’s election challenger, Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore, says crime would be her top priority as mayor. The 20-year veteran on the City Council told the AJC the crime plan Bottoms presented will take too long to develop.

But the mayor’s training center plan received support from the Atlanta Committee for Progress, a public-private group of corporate leaders designed to participate in and support the city’s initiatives and policies. According to a Thursday morning press release, Bottoms said in a statement that the committee’s support will lay “the foundation for a world-class training academy to ensure our police force has the best tools and resources available to protect our neighborhoods citywide.”

“These actions help our city move faster in fighting crime while also ensuring our police officers have the additional training and skills required to serve and respond appropriately to the needs of all Atlantans,” according to a statement by committee chair Alex Taylor.

Taylor is the Cox Enterprises president and chief executive officer. Cox Enterprises owns the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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Bottoms and Wilkinson declined to comment on the cost of the new center, but they stressed the bulk of the funding will come through a public/private partnership with the Atlanta Police Foundation and the city’s philanthropic community. The Atlanta Committee for Progress reported the funding sources include City of Atlanta bonds, new market tax credits, and private/philanthropic support, according to the committee’s press release.

Bottoms said the center would ensure police officers have the resources needed for training in the most up-to-date methods of community policing, such as de-escalation tactics and cultural awareness. Atlanta’s public safety servants are overdue for new buildings, she said, calling the current “rundown” building a “buzzkill” that would suggest the city doesn’t value public safety.

Wilkinson said he was excited when the mayor first mentioned the building plan during her virtual State of the City Address, which was pre-recorded March 23 and broadcast Wednesday. He said officers have wanted a new building for years and he hopes police agencies across the metro area will participate in the training at the center.

“It’s going to lift the morale and optimism of the police officers tenfold,” he said. “It should pay for itself 10 times over.”

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