OPINION: Crime wave should spur action on center

07/28/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia —The site for the new Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, located along Key Road Southeast in Atlanta, Wednesday, July 28, 2021. Public Safety Training Center will be located across 150 acres of the old Atlanta Prison Farm, which is city-owned and located east of the city in unincorporated DeKalb County. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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07/28/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia —The site for the new Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, located along Key Road Southeast in Atlanta, Wednesday, July 28, 2021. Public Safety Training Center will be located across 150 acres of the old Atlanta Prison Farm, which is city-owned and located east of the city in unincorporated DeKalb County. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

OUR VIEW

The Atlanta City Council last week narrowly voted to table for now a plan that calls for building a new training center for city of Atlanta police and fire/rescue personnel.

The plan to build on the city-owned, forested site of the old Atlanta prison farm in DeKalb County has encountered “immense attention and pushback from residents and activists,” according to our story.

Much of the stated opposition so far has centered around what residents and environmentalists see as the loss of green space that would result from building the training center.

That said, a coalition of activist groups, including Defund APD, Refund Communities, Community Movement Builders and the Sunrise Movement, have also campaigned against what they call “Cop City.”

This concerted pushback led the City Council to vote 8 to 7 to table the proposal. It could come up again at the Council’s next meeting on Sept. 7. Council members said they wanted more time to gather public input on the proposal.

It’s a common axiom that time is money.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable either to consider that time and human lives are similarly related.

That provides a pragmatic way to look at the ongoing – and now-delayed – decision on whether to green-light the training center.

It’s safe to say that crime won’t politely observe the delay. Criminals will continue to ply their trade, exacting a cost in property, public fears and even lives.

The rise in violent crime seen in the city of Atlanta of late demands public safety resources that are up to the task. A significant part of that comes from the city’s ability to provide state-of-the-art training that meets the needs of today’s troubled city and nation.

There’s no time to waste in moving to replace the city’s current, dilapidated training grounds. This societal moment is too fraught with risk to lives and property to unduly delay the decision to move forward.

One of the recurring themes that’s emerged from recent upheavals over the role of police in America is the need for substantially improved training of those whose sworn job it is to serve and protect.

An AJC news story last month noted that “The plan’s supporters say that the center will encourage police reform and community policing by providing a space for officers to go through retraining and areas where the public could see aspects of training.”

It’s no exaggeration to say that better-trained officers may well save lives during routine encounters with the public.

That point alone should provide a catalyst for supporting the city’s efforts to build the new training site.

The $90 million center would be paid for by a blend of private and public dollars, backed by the Atlanta Police Foundation and the city’s philanthropic community. The city would contribute $30 million to the project.

The ratio of private-to-public dollars points to the center being a good deal for taxpayers. And the deal won’t get less costly by delaying a final decision. The opposite is likely true.

Cox Enterprises President and CEO Alex Taylor, who also chairs the Atlanta Committee for Progress, is leading a campaign to raise private funds for the project.

Cox Enterprises owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Police Foundation has also promised that construction on 85 acres of the 380-acre, city-owned site will abide by environmental regulations and seek to protect historic landmarks on the property.

We’re hopeful that the delay in deciding will give time for the city and the foundation to reach agreement with groups worried about the plan’s environmental effects. The Council should also work hard to hear any other reasonable concerns from the public between now and its next meeting. Listening can help build public support.

Doing all of that should help provide adequate groundwork for Council approval of the plan very soon.

Moving forward on improving public safety requires no less.

The Editorial Board.

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