Opinion: Tabling center vote, support for public safety not opposing goals

07/28/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — A “no trespassing” sign is displayed at 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)
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07/28/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — A “no trespassing” sign is displayed at 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

ANOTHER VIEW

I believe the members of the Atlanta City Council are elected to represent the best interests of our city and to give due respect to the voices of the people.

The goal of good public policy should be to get it right, not to get it done quickly. This is especially true when considering the impact of legislation that potentially binds the city for 5 decades. Such is the case with the legislation authorizing a 50-year ground lease agreement between the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Police Foundation to build a new public safety training facility.

I am very concerned about the high level of crime in our city.

When I speak about crime, it’s not just from an ideological perspective. My daughter was a victim of an attempted car jacking last year, and I am the chief sponsor of legislation requiring all gas station operators to place cameras on every gas pump.

Just as I am committed to finding effective solutions to reducing crime in our city, I am also committed to being an effective legislator.

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Natalyn Archibong

Credit: contributed

Natalyn Archibong
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Natalyn Archibong

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

After this legislation was introduced, the city council listened to over 20 hours of public comment. Many of those who spoke in favor of this proposal linked the proposed public safety training facility to crime reduction.

To be clear, we need a new training facility because our existing facilities are deplorable.

Whether or not we build a new facility has very little to do with crime reduction. Building a new facility has everything to do with ensuring we train our police officers and firefighters properly and safely.

Crime reduction will be the direct result of having strong leadership, having the will to address the underlying causes of crime, and having a sustained focus on restoring confidence between the city, our police and the community.

We must do all these things to have a safe city.

Prior to making the motion to table this legislation, I sent an email to all my colleagues urging them to slow down the process primarily because of the poorly executed public engagement strategy. In that email, I highlighted the fact DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson, the representative of the area that includes the Old Prison Farm where the site is proposed, had never received a presentation of this proposal from the Atlanta Police Foundation.

Concerning this lack of engagement, my email stated in part: “This revelation is yet another example in a long line of agencies and community representatives/groups who feel disrespected, ignored or excluded from what should be an open and very public process. And, while it is true that we cannot please everyone, it is equally true that we can, at a minimum, demand the execution of a well-executed and genuine public engagement process. This has not yet been done.

It is my recommendation that we table this legislation and use the intervening time to engage in real and well-executed community engagement. At the end of that process, I am confident there will still be those who oppose. However, that opposition will no longer be due to the lack of public engagement. Let’s use the next 30 days more effectively by using the lessons learned from the failed public engagement executed by APF, and to do what we do best: listening to our constituents.”

I stand by all the points made in this email. It is an incontrovertible truth our police and firefighters need and deserve a new public safety training facility.

Further, building a new public safety training facility does not prevent our city from continuing to re-imagine policing or from continuing to develop non-emergency response protocols. We must also continue to add funding for initiatives such as Pre-Arrest Diversion and other social services. I am confident our city can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Thankfully, our public safety personnel currently have access to temporary training facilities for up to the next 3 years. However, to restore the morale of our public safety personnel, to build the confidence of the public that our city places a high priority on properly trained police and firefighters, and to ensure our legislative body deliberates this proposal thoroughly and carefully, we must use the time between now and the next city council meeting as effectively as possible.

Engaging in robust, well-executed public engagement for a project of this magnitude will definitely be time well spent.

Natalyn Archibong represents District 5 on the Atlanta City Council.

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