Proposal on police, fire training center passes to finance committee as opposition continues

080521 Atlanta: Local activists Kelsea (left) and Nora (right), who go by first names only, hang a "Stop Cop City" banner from the balcony of the Neighborhood Church during a town hall meeting to gather public input in opposition to the plans for a new police and fire training facility in DeKalb County on Thursday, August 5, 2021, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Caption
080521 Atlanta: Local activists Kelsea (left) and Nora (right), who go by first names only, hang a "Stop Cop City" banner from the balcony of the Neighborhood Church during a town hall meeting to gather public input in opposition to the plans for a new police and fire training facility in DeKalb County on Thursday, August 5, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The Atlanta City Council’s public safety committee voted 6-1 Monday to move forward a proposal to lease land in unincorporated DeKalb County for a police and fire training facility. The vote followed nearly four hours of public comment period, almost all of which pertained to the training center.

The proposal now moves to the council’s finance committee on Wednesday. If it passes there, the full city council will consider the facility Aug. 16.

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The proposal is to lease 150 acres of city-owned land at the site of the old Atlanta prison farm to the Atlanta Police Foundation for a $90 million training center. It was supposed to be voted on in June, but the committee delayed deliberation until August after activists and residents submitted hours of public comment protesting the plan.

Councilmember Joyce Sheperd, who sponsored the proposal and chairs the committee, voted in favor of it, as did Michael Julian Bond, Andrea Boone, Amir Farokhi, Dustin Hills and Cleta Winslow.

“I just really wanted to compliment the police foundation on all the work they’ve done,” Winslow said.

Councilmember Carla Smith voted no. She wrote on social media Friday that she “cannot support” building the facility on the old prison farmland.

“Undoubtedly, there is another location that can house this facility,” Smith wrote. “However, the largest remaining green space inside the perimeter cannot be replaced or re-located.”

Under terms negotiated by the city and the Atlanta Police Foundation, the city can terminate the lease any time with or without cause. Several council members raised questions and concerns about tree removal and land use, encouraging efforts to maximize greenspace.

The city owns a total of 381 acres at the site.

“While this facility is needed, the facility or the existence of it is not going to solve violent crime in our city, and I think it’s a little bit misleading to say so,” Farokhi said. “My biggest concern is how do we preserve as much green space as possible … There seems to be a lot of wiggle room in the amount of acreage that’s needed for the center to be built.”

Deputy Chief Operating Officer Jestin Johnson said it is possible to expand greenspace and maximize tree cover as a final site plan is developed.

Decision follows opponents’ town hall

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, the Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America chapter hosted a town hall to give residents a chance to sound-off against the proposed facility, they called “Cop City.” The town hall was co-hosted by Community Movement Builders and Sunrise Movement.

The event, held in-person at the Neighborhood Church Thursday evening, lasted over two hours and had more than 100 attendees.

The Atlanta Police Foundation and APD Urban had previously held two public input sessions with moderated question and answer periods that some activists said was “undemocratic.”

A few dozen speakers at Thursday’s event raised concerns that resources proposed for the facility should be redirected to areas like mental health or homelessness and that the facility would have an adverse environmental impact.

Caption
080521 Atlanta: Councilman Antonio Brown (center) speaks with Anne DeMartini, an Atlanta resident in his voting district, while attending a town hall meeting gathering public input in opposition to the plans for a new police and fire training facility in DeKalb County at Neighborhood Church on Thursday, August 5, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

080521 Atlanta: Councilman Antonio Brown (center) speaks with Anne DeMartini, an Atlanta resident in his voting district, while attending a town hall meeting gathering public input in opposition to the plans for a new police and fire training facility in DeKalb County at Neighborhood Church on Thursday, August 5, 2021, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Caption
080521 Atlanta: Councilman Antonio Brown (center) speaks with Anne DeMartini, an Atlanta resident in his voting district, while attending a town hall meeting gathering public input in opposition to the plans for a new police and fire training facility in DeKalb County at Neighborhood Church on Thursday, August 5, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The police foundation would be responsible for ensuring that the project meets environmental regulations and producing legally required environmental studies, the foundation said on Monday. The group previously committed to replacing all trees removed and distancing new firing ranges from residential areas.

Though all council members were invited to the forum, only Council President Felicia Moore and Councilmember Antonio Brown, both of whom are mayoral candidates, were in attendance.

Brown is the only other city council member aside from Smith who has publicly denounced building the training center on the old Atlanta prison farm property. He confirmed at the forum that he would vote no should the proposal reach the full council, saying, “I’m voting no to Cop City.”

“I support the development of the training facility, just not on that land,” Brown previously told the AJC. “We should be protecting our green spaces and our forests.”

Brown also said he believed that the city’s forums for the community to express concerns were insufficient, saying that he did not want the process to be “rushed.”

Caption
080521 Atlanta: Council President Felicia Moore is socially distanced while attending a town hall meeting held by activists gathering public input in opposition to the plans for a new police and fire training facility in DeKalb County at Neighborhood Church on Thursday, August 5, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

080521 Atlanta: Council President Felicia Moore is socially distanced while attending a town hall meeting held by activists gathering public input in opposition to the plans for a new police and fire training facility in DeKalb County at Neighborhood Church on Thursday, August 5, 2021, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Caption
080521 Atlanta: Council President Felicia Moore is socially distanced while attending a town hall meeting held by activists gathering public input in opposition to the plans for a new police and fire training facility in DeKalb County at Neighborhood Church on Thursday, August 5, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Moore said she attended the forum to hear out residents’ and activists’ concerns, “whether we may agree or disagree at the end of the day.”

However, Moore declined to say whether she would vote yes or no on the proposed site for the facility. As council president, Moore would only vote in the event of a tie. She has previously said that she supports the plan at mayoral candidate forums.

“We need a police facility and we need a fire training facility,” Moore said, prompting boos from the crowd. “If you don’t want to listen, then don’t ask me.”

Defund APD, Refund Communities and Community Movement Builders organizers told the AJC that if the proposal is formally approved by the full council, next steps would include organizing ahead of fall elections to vote out council members that supported it. They have planned a protest at City Hall on Sunday.

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