Despite hours of public comment against the plan and two delayed votes because of community pushback, Atlanta’s City Council voted on Wednesday night to approve the construction of a massive new police training center on city land that has been dubbed “Cop City” by those against it.
As The Daily Beast previously reported, the facility is expected to cost $90 million and will include state-of-the-art explosive testing areas, firing ranges, and a mock city. It’s main backer is the Atlanta Police Foundation, an advocacy group flush with funding and political sway that sold the project by suggesting it could help address the city’s increase in violent crime.
Critics of the project say it will do nothing to address the root causes of crime, and instead will militarize police further and give them more resources that are unlikely to change matters for the community as a whole.
An original vote on the proposal in August was rescheduled for Tuesday after criticism over the lack of public input on the matter. The vote on Tuesday was then pushed back a day so the city council could take in over 1,000 public comments called in by residents, totaling over 17 hours. The majority of the comments urged the council to vote against the plan, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Nonetheless, on Wednesday night the council voted 10-4, approving the new training center, which will sit on 85 acres of city-owned land.
Kamau Franklin, a local activist who has organized demonstrations against the center, told The Daily Beast he was not surprised by the way the vote turned out. But he said there was disappointment that some of the council members who voted to approve the plan “like to position themselves as progressive or having the ear of the people.”
Franklin said the council’s vote in favor of the training center, despite the public largely being against it, proves who council members really answer to.
“I think it shows that as opposed to responding to people in their neighborhoods and communities, instead they responded to the corporations, instead they responded to people who live in Buckhead, instead they responded to the right-wing governor.”
On Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sent a letter to the city council urging them to support the center. Kemp argued that increasing training and support for police and fire department members is important at a time when “residents in our capital city are being plagued by a drastic rise in violent crime.”
Kemp, citing the city’s “crime crisis,” wrote that supporting the plan made sense for those who want to keep the city safe. “The security of our families and communities hang in the balance, and we must continue to do all we can to support our public safety partners.”
The argument is one that has been made by many supporters of the project, which Franklin called illogical.
“It just seems ridiculous to me that somehow this center was posed as something that’s going to stop crime or fight crime,” Franklin said, adding that it won’t be built for another three to five years.
On Thursday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who has supported the project, said in a press conference that council members who voted in favor of the training center were “courageous” and showed their willingness to make public safety and the morale and retention of the police department a priority.
She said that the current police academy and fire rescue training facilities in the city are deplorable and have been for some time. “We’ve talked about 21st century training, 21st century policing,” she said, “you can’t do that in subpar facilities.”
But Franklin said he didn’t understand why a new facility couldn’t be funded from the Atlanta Police Department’s budget, which was recently increased 7 percent, despite calls that it be cut.
In her press conference, Bottoms also responded to criticism by activists that the city had done a 180 on funding, pushing through the funding for a massive police training center after discussing defunding the police just last summer.
“I don’t know how you do that,” Bottoms said, speaking about the calls to defund or abolish the police. “Unless somebody is going to abolish crime.” She said the new center will help train police not to “serve as warriors in our communities but to serve as guardians.”
At the same press conference, Dave Wilkinson, CEO of the Atlanta Police Foundation, called Wednesday night’s vote “the most important security measure” that the city could introduce.
“We’re building this training center as a tribute to the community,” he said, adding that it would be a tribute to “21st century police reform” and “21st century policing.”