Ossoff backs need for new Atlanta police training facilities

The Democrat stops short of endorsing city’s $90M proposed complex: “Where those facilities are located is a decision for Atlanta.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff became one of the highest-profile Democrats to endorse the need for new public safety training facilities in Atlanta, though he stopped short of backing the specific project that Mayor Andre Dickens and the City Council approved.

“Senator Ossoff fully supports new, world-class training facilities for Atlanta law enforcement and first responders,” said a spokesman for the first-term Democrat, who is up for reelection in 2026. “Where those facilities are located is a decision for Atlanta.”

He was the only of four prominent Democrats surveyed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to endorse new public safety facilities, more closely aligning himself with Dickens than many other leaders in the party over a project that has drawn intense controversy.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, and Stacey Abrams, the party’s gubernatorial nominee the last two elections, didn’t comment on questions from the AJC on whether they support the complex.

But Abrams and Warnock have recently opined on a separate issue — the ongoing battle over whether the $90 million complex should be the subject of a referendum on the ballot.

U.S. Sen Raphael Warnock and Stacey Abrams listen to former President Barack Obama speak in Atlanta at a rally for Democratic candidates on Oct. 28, 2022. (Arvin Temkar/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

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Credit: TNS

Abrams has endorsed a vote on the complex, while Warnock has asked Dickens to sharpen his answers on a series of questions about how the city is handling tens of thousands of signatures on petitions seeking a referendum.

Dickens, meanwhile, said that he had consulted with Abrams, Ossoff and Warnock to help shape the city’s approach to petitions demanding a referendum.

Ossoff’s nuanced statement underscores the messy internal Democratic politics over the project, which has roiled the city’s politics for much of the last two years by pitting the city’s Democratic mayor against left-leaning activists who bitterly oppose its construction.

Republicans are turning up the heat, sensing a sharp new dividing line over public safety. Gov. Brian Kemp, who could challenge Ossoff for the U.S. Senate seat in three years, has urged elected officials to step up their support for the center.

“Georgians deserve to know where their elected officials stand in protecting their families,” said Kemp adviser Cody Hall. “And the question for vulnerable Georgia Democrats is simple: do you support funding and properly training our police officers and first responders, or not?”

Majority leader Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) makes a motion to end the House session on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Georgia House Majority Leader Chuck Efstration echoed the governor, saying that a training center for police, firefighters and other first-responders is a “smart solution to a dangerous problem.

“This is ‘Defund the Police’ by another name, and officials from both parties must speak up,” the Gwinnett Republican said. “Those leaders calling for a referendum should also talk explicitly about why they oppose better training for law enforcement and safer streets.”

The project’s opponents call it a wasteful and environmentally perilous development that encourages overly aggressive policing tactics.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens speaks at a ceremony for Marvin Arrington Sr., former superior court judge and Atlanta City Council president, who lies in state at Atlanta City Hall on Thursday, July 27, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

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Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

The opposition intensified after the fatal police shooting of environmental activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran by Georgia State Patrol officers on the site in January. Law enforcement allege Teran fired at officers first, an account his family disputes.

Ossoff’s statement could buoy Dickens, who has at times seemed one of the only prominent state Democrats championing the project. Dickens told the Politically Georgia podcast that an “intimidation” factor has likely unnerved others in his party.

“When you say you disagree with these folks, you know what these people are capable of and what they have tried to do, and what they have insinuated they will do,” he said of threats leveled against the project’s supporters.