Dickens defends training center, efforts to combat crime

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens on Tuesday continued defending the planned public safety training center, despite the unrest it has caused.

Dickens was pressed on crime and the intense controversy surrounding the $90-million public safety training facility during a question-and-answer session at an Atlanta Press Club event, held at the Buckhead Club.

Dickens and city officials have faced mounting criticism over the facility. Scrutiny skyrocketed after the deadly Jan. 18 incident where an activist near the site was shot by police 13 times and killed.

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating the incident, state troopers conducting a “clearing operation” came across 26-year-old Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran and other activists in the woods when Teran shot and wounded a trooper “without warning.” Trooper returned fire, killing Teran, according to police.

Dickens, who as a councilman supported construction of the facility, said Tuesday that the site has a long history of public safety utilization, going back to the 1970s. Of the 300 acres of woods, he said, 85 acres will be dedicated to the center and the rest will be protected greenspace.

He described the site as a necessary hub for crucial training of both police officers and firefighters, that will feature facilities from obstacle courses to police horse stables.

“When you hear people say it’s a place for ‘police militarization’ — it’s not,” Dickens said.

Dickens said the center is a response to both outcry over police brutality sparked by the death of Georgia Floyd in 2020, and a need to respond to the city’s high rates of crime.

Despite rates for some violent crimes like rape and aggravated assault dipping last year, homicides hit record numbers in Atlanta for a third year in a row.

“It takes a while to right a ship,” Dickens said, noting he is optimistic about progress his office has seen so far this year. He blamed most of the homicides on widespread access to guns, and disputes that escalate to violence.

A result of widespread concern over Atlanta’s violent crime has been a push by some Buckhead residents to secede from Atlanta and form their own city. Dickens, who successfully stifled the prospect last year, said he’s been meeting with state leadership — and a legislator who supports cityhood — in an attempt to keep it from coming up again during this year’s legislative session.

“We want one city with one bright future, as we’ve been stating,” he said. “Most people are seeing now that we are making progress together.”