The Atlanta City Council voted 10-4 on Wednesday night in favor of the controversial public safety training facility – nicknamed “Cop City” by opponents – after 17 hours of public comment where 70% of the callers spoke out against the facility.
Voting in favor of the facility were council members Michael Julian Bond, Andrea Boone, Matt Westmoreland, Howard Shook, Marci Collier Overstreet, Andre Dickens, Cleta Winslow, JP Matzigkeit, Joyce Sheperd, and Dustin Hillis.
Voting against: Jennifer Ide, Antonio Brown, Carla Smith, and Natalyn Archibong. Amir Farokhi is on parental leave and did not vote.
Atlanta police and fire officials have touted the need for the 85-acre facility after the Atlanta Police Foundation secured private funding for the $90 million project and sought to lease the city-owned property.
The facility will be located on the old Atlanta Prison Farm property on Key Road in DeKalb County, which is owned by the city. Plans call for a mock-up of a town, a firefighting “drill tower,” emergency vehicle operations course (EVOC), classroom space, a firing range, space for ordinance disposal, and space for a helicopter to land in case of an emergency.
The 85-acres is part of a larger 300 acres piece of property that had been previously earmarked by the city for greenspace. Opponents – including residents, businesses, and sustainability/conservation nonprofits – said the project will destroy the city’s last opportunity to have a large regional greenspace inside the city limits.The city had previously earmarked the land for greenspace.
Both Archibong and Ide spoke out against the facility, stating that proponents of the facility had falsely conflated the project with fighting the current crime wave that has galvanized the city.
“We now see the manifestation of what happens when the government moves ahead of the population that is trusting them to keep them engaged,” Archibong said. “This facility will not be built for another couple of years. To conflate the issue of building this facility with an automatic reduction in crime is irresponsible.”
“You can’t fix or overlook bad process, and there was just incredibly bad process here,” Ide said said. “I think that we have not given enough attention to the environmental aspect of this and I don’t think we’ve given enough attention to our sister government in DeKalb County.”
Before the vote, Westmoreland introduced an amendment to strengthen the advisory council that the Atlanta Police Foundation must create as part of its lease agreement. The advisory council will include neighborhood residents and stakeholders.
Archibong and Ide attempted to introduce their own amendments to strengthen the lease, but both were voted down. Ide’s amendment would have pushed the effective lease date to January, which would have given the new administration time to weigh in on the agreement.
Brown said the entire process had been rushed and approval of the lease went against the public’s wishes. He accused the Atlanta Police Foundation and organizations pushing for the facility of fearmongering about crime and chastised fellow council members who voted in favor of the facility despite strong opposition from their constituents.
“The majority of the callers were in opposition to this project,” Brown said. “Since this whole process started, used fearmongering about crime to move their agenda forward. I think that’s really unfortunate.”
Earlier in the afternoon, Gov. Brian Kemp waded into the debate urging the council to approve the lease to combat the “crime crisis” happening in Atlanta.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a statement after the vote that the facility “will not only help boost morale, retention and recruitment of our public safety personnel, but will give us physical space to ensure that our officers and firefighters are receiving 21st century training, rooted in respect and regard for the communities they serve.”