Four pieces of construction equipment were set on fire at a townhome development Friday morning in what authorities said is the latest attempt to target companies involved in the building of Atlanta’s public safety training center.

The equipment was parked in the soon-to-be Empire Zephyr community when the fire was set around 5:30 a.m.

Atlanta police, federal agents and fire investigators flocked to the site on Burroughs Street in the Chosewood Park neighborhood, about two miles from the training facility. No injuries were reported.

The torched construction equipment is among at least two dozen acts of arson linked to activists opposed to the building of the facility, officials said.

“This has got to stop,” Atlanta police Chief Darin Schierbaum told reporters at the scene. “If this individual or individuals are not stopped soon, they are likely to cost someone their life.”

Agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were called to the neighborhood, which is still being built. The equipment was parked in a field away from any structures, but some of the nearby townhomes are occupied.

“We are close to private homes where families live and we have arson events that are occurring,” Atlanta fire Chief Rod Smith said. “This is absolutely horrendous and we have to get to the bottom of this.”

Investigators are hoping that some residents in the area have doorbell cameras that captured the suspect or suspects and are asking anyone with relevant footage to contact police.

Police and fire units responded early Friday morning to 543 Burroughs Street, where several pieces of construction equipment were on fire.

Credit: Mandi Albright

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Credit: Mandi Albright

Citing more than 80 “criminal instances,” authorities have said activists in cities across the U.S. and abroad are targeting companies associated with the project. That includes vandalizing buildings, damaging equipment and setting fires, according to police.

Groups opposed to the training center’s construction have taken credit for such actions on social media and in blog posts, and there have been more than 173 arrests, authorities said.

Schierbaum said he saw a social media post indicating that groups opposed to the training center were involved in Friday’s arson. At least one burned-out excavator bore the name of Newnan-based contractor Brent Scarborough & Co. The company is included in a list compiled by opponents as one of the subcontractors for the facility.

Locally, arson incidents date to May 2022, when someone broke a window at a youth center funded by the Atlanta Police Foundation and tossed in four Molotov cocktails and an incendiary device. The incident happened overnight when no one was inside.

Last July, several Atlanta police motorcycles were torched outside the department’s existing training academy along Southside Industrial Parkway.

In October, a contractor reported that his equipment was set on fire a third time in six months. Then in November, work vehicles owned by Ernst Concrete were set ablaze in Gwinnett County. The company said it is not involved in the building of the new training center.

The most recent report of activists taking credit for burning equipment happened Jan. 16 near the construction site, which is located at the old Atlanta Prison Farm in the southern DeKalb County woods.

A $200,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrests and convictions of the alleged arsonists. Schierbaum said billboards advertising the reward are going up in nine major cities, including Detroit, Seattle, Nashville and New York.

Last year, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr indicted 61 activists on charges of violating the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Some face additional charges of domestic terrorism, arson and money laundering.

The new training facility is set to include a burn building, firing range, stables for police horses, an emergency vehicle course, a gym and multiple academic buildings with classrooms and administrative offices.

Activists say its construction will damage the South River Forest and contribute to what they say is the militarization of the police department. City officials say the facility, which is more than 75% completed and due to open later this year, is vital to maintaining well-trained police and fire departments.

Schierbaum said Friday that his department will be “moving in” this December and that the new facility will be operational by this time next year.

“I think that’s why we see these desperate attacks occurring,” Schierbaum said. “Because individuals know that their goal to intimidate, to incite fear in the heart of construction companies and this city, is not working.”

The up-front cost of the training center construction was originally estimated at about $90 million, with roughly a third from the city, a third from the Atlanta Police Foundation and a third from other non-public philanthropic sources. In June 2023, the city allocated $31 million for its share of construction costs. Once the center is built, the city said, it will pay the foundation $1.2 million per year for 30 years to lease back the facility and cover some operating costs, and at the end of that period the city will own the center.

Officials recently announced the cost of the center had increased by $19 million, driven largely by added security to prevent destruction from protesters, litigation, additional insurance and construction expenses. The city said the police foundation and its donors will pick up that cost.