Atlanta is set to receive permits needed to start building its controversial public safety training center after reaching a new agreement with DeKalb County that says the project will provide environmental protections and be a catalyst for local jobs, according to officials.
The agreement was announced Jan. 31 by Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond at Atlanta City Hall. The county’s approval of construction permits is necessary because the training center is being built on city-owned property in unincorporated DeKalb County near the Old Atlanta Prison Farm, Intrenchment Creek Park and the South River Water Basin.
The city and county announcement comes less than two weeks after activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, 26, was shot and killed by police at the site, called “Cop City” by its opponents. The shooting happened after police said Teran shot a Georgia State Patrol trooper as law enforcement cleared activists from the site.
A small group of protesters gathered outside City Hall during the announcement shouting and carrying signs denouncing the agreement.
Thurmond said the agreement (attached below) with the city is intended to address environmental concerns. He said the the agreement “will protect the neighborhoods, the families, the individuals, and most importantly … the South River Water Basin, which is a unique natural resource.”
“There’s nothing else like it inside of I-285 and it was our number one priority, along with protecting the residents, to protect this beautiful, beautiful forest,” Thurmond said.
The training center will be built on 85 acres of more than 380 acres of city-owned parcels in southwest DeKalb. Roughly 300 acres will continue to be green space available to the public. The Atlanta Police Foundation (APF), a private nonprofit, is leasing the property from the city and leading the planning for the center.
Dickens said the center is critical in making sure police and the fire department receive state-of-the-art training. The campus will include a burn building for the fire department, pasture land for the horses for the police department’s mounted patrol, an emergency vehicle obstacle course and housing for police and fire recruits.
The city of Atlanta has the “most extensive training requirements in the Southeast,” Dickens said.
“Our training includes vital areas like deescalation training techniques, mental health, community-oriented policing, crisis intervention training, as well as civil rights history education,” he said. “This training needs space and that’s exactly what this Training Center is going to offer.”
Dickens said the city worked with DeKalb County for about a year to address environmental concerns.
“This essentially is a huge park about the size of Atlanta’s largest park and it will be a park that will have a training center on a modest footprint within it,” Dickens said at the press conference.
“This is Atlanta and we know forests,” the mayor said. “This facility will not be built over a forest.”
Gina Webber, interim director of the Sierra Club Georgia Chapter, dismissed the notion that a “compromise” had occurred and again called on the city of Atlanta to cancel the lease with the Atlanta Police Foundation.
“Today’s announcement was described by government officials as a compromise, but all we heard was more of the same. Instead of listening to their constituents, city officials adopted recommendations from a committee run by the Atlanta Police Foundation,” Webb said in a statement to the media. “This is not community engagement. Moving the pieces around or pledging more greenspace in the project’s footprint does not change the fundamental disagreement over this unnecessary facility: The forest is too important to the health of our communities to destroy even a portion of it. The Sierra Club Georgia Chapter reiterates its call for city officials to cancel the lease with the Atlanta Police Foundation and protect the entire South River Forest.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.