The Race for City Hall: The politics of Atlanta’s police, fire training center vote

Also, a new poll shines some light on the conversation around crime
A “no trespassing” sign at the proposed site for the new Atlanta police and fire training center. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

A “no trespassing” sign at the proposed site for the new Atlanta police and fire training center. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

We’re eight weeks out from Election Day, and a closely watched City Council vote on Tuesday could impact the discourse over policing, public safety and greenspace in the mayoral and City Council races over the next 56 days.

The 15-member council is set to vote on the proposal to lease 85 acres of land in DeKalb County — the site of the old Atlanta prison farm — to the Atlanta Police Foundation for the construction of a brand-new training center for Atlanta’s police and fire ranks. It’s a controversial plan that the council has delayed voting on amid protests and pushback from residents, activists and some DeKalb County officials.

Protests continued over the weekend, hoping to put pressure on councilmembers to vote against the proposal on Tuesday, one day before the mayoral candidates will speak at a forum focused on greenspace in Atlanta.

Demonstrators in support of defunding the police and a socialist democracy gather on the steps of Atlanta City Hall on Sunday, Aug 15, 2021 in opposition to a $90 million proposed police training facility that will be built on 381 acres of green space known as Old Atlanta Prison Farm.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

We checked with the leading candidates for mayor and City Council last week to get their thoughts on the issue. Several criticized the public input process, but most supported the need for a new training center for Atlanta’s police officers and firefighters.

Two candidates that haven’t take firm public stances? Sitting councilmembers Natalyn Archibong and Andre Dickens, who are running for council president and mayor, respectively.


Are you concerned about the rise in violent crime in Atlanta? Do you feel safe in your own neighborhood? If you had different answers to those two questions, you’re not alone.

We got our hands on the results of a recent poll commissioned by The Communities Over Cages: Close the Jail ATL Campaign, which is pushing for the closure of the mostly empty Atlanta City Detention Center downtown.

The poll, which surveyed 500 likely voters in the city, found that crime is far and away the No. 1 topic on voters’ minds, with 43% saying crime and violence is the most important issue facing the city. The next highest issue was affordable housing, at 12%.

But when asked how safe they feel in their neighborhood, 88% said they feel safe.

The poll also found that just over half of respondents, 54%, support closing ACDC — that number increased after people were given “facts and persuasive messaging” about ACDC.

Among the top field of mayoral candidates, most support keeping the jail open. Just one, Councilman Antonio Brown, has expressed support for closing the jail.

Xochitl Bervera, the director of the Racial Justice Action Center, said the poll reveals a disconnect between the candidates and voters.

“Clearly there’s voter support for it,” Bervera told us. “Those mayoral candidates, I feel like, are really missing that aspect.”


Atlanta City Councilman and mayoral candidate Antonio Brown is headed to trial next spring.

Brown was indicted last July on four felony charges for actions allegedly taken years before he was elected to the council. He has pleaded not guilty and repeatedly said he is innocent. In pretrial proceedings, Brown’s lawyers tried to throw out statements he made to investigators in 2019, but a judge denied that motion, clearing the case for trial.


Attorney Sharon Gay released her second mayoral campaign ad last Thursday, just days after her inaugural ad hit Atlanta’s airwaves.

Entitled “Streets,” the 30-second ad puts viewers in front of a TV screen that juxtaposes snippets of news anchors discussing how crime “is on the top of minds” across the metro area. The video quickly cuts to Gay discussing how she’ll “get Atlanta back on track.”


What’s coming up:

- The mayoral candidates will gather this Wednesday at 6 p.m. for a virtual forum focused on greenspace hosted by groups including the Atlanta Beltline Partnership, Park Pride, Trees Atlanta and The Trust for Public Land. At least 12 of the mayoral candidates are set to participate.

- A coalition of housing and transportation-focused organizations, including Beltline Rail Now and Housing Justice League, continues its candidate forum series with an event focused on the City Council at-large Post 3 race on Thursday, Sept. 9 at 6 p.m.