Gwinnett County expands its police training center

Sgt. James Harkins walks into a scenario training classroom for recruits inside of the new wing of The Gwinnett County Police Training Center on Monday, July 31, 2023. The training center’s new wing also includes a multipurpose room and new locker rooms. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Sgt. James Harkins walks into a scenario training classroom for recruits inside of the new wing of The Gwinnett County Police Training Center on Monday, July 31, 2023. The training center’s new wing also includes a multipurpose room and new locker rooms. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

The Gwinnett County Police Department has finished a $6.2 million expansion of its training center in an attempt to accommodate larger recruiting classes for the understaffed force.

“As we continue to grow, this facility is going to bode well for the next two decades, I would imagine,” Police Chief J.D. McClure said after a Monday ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The project pales in size and scope when compared to the controversial $90 million proposed Atlanta public safety training center, which opponents have dubbed “Cop City.”

The Gwinnett expansion added 26,000 square feet to the main building of the police training complex outside of Lawrenceville. The new space includes a multi-purpose room where defensive tactics training will take place, three new classrooms, a larger break room, locker rooms, and offices for instructors and administrators.

Views of the multipurpose room inside of the new wing of The Gwinnett County Police Training Center shown on Monday, July 31, 2023. The room will also be used for physical training for new recruits. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

icon to expand image

The new spaces can accommodate the current training classes, which number more than 50 recruits. The class sizes have outgrown some of the rooms in the original building, constructed in 2007, police officials said. The older spaces will be used for continuing education for veteran officers.

The 40-acre police training facility also includes two indoor firing ranges, with plans for a third, and a garage and driving range with staff offices. A new building on the campus for SWAT, bomb squad and K-9 officers is in the design phase.

Some other law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office, use the facility, McClure said. The Gwinnett County Fire Department has its own training academy in the northeastern part of the county.

Gwinnett, like many other police departments, has struggled with high vacancy rates in recent years in a climate hostile to police after high-profile cases of brutality against Black people around the country. The Gwinnett department is authorized to employ 936 sworn officers and currently has 712, including about 80 recruits in the training academy, McClure said.

This year’s Gwinnett police budget includes hiring incentives. The department has also expanded community relations and created a behavioral health unit to help respond to mental health calls. The county two years ago created a Police Citizen’s Advisory Board that aims to improve public understanding and create a forum for concerns about law enforcement.

Atlanta plans to build its training complex, for the police and fire departments, on an 85-acre site in the South River Forest. Atlanta’s training center includes a separate auditorium and administration building, a mock city for urban police training, stables and a pasture for horses and an urban farm.

Opponents say Atlanta’s facility will militarize police and damage the forest. They are collecting signatures in an attempt to hold a referendum on the contract to build the facility.

Gwinnett has run its own police academy since the 1970s. The first classes were held in the chapel of the Gwinnett County Correctional Institute.

The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners two years ago approved the facility expansion. Funding came from the police budget, according to a county spokeswoman.

“Let’s invest in safe communities,” Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said Monday. “Let’s also invest in ensuring that we can touch on preventing poverty, addressing access to resources for young people, making sure they have access to recreation, so it’s a both-and conversation.”

About the Author