Atlanta mayor creates task force for community engagement on ‘Cop City’Atlanta City Hall Annex. Photo by Dean Hesse.
This story has been updated.
Atlanta, GA — Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens is establishing a task force to further engage the community on plans for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center site as well as the surrounding greenspace.
The city of Atlanta is also relaunching a website focused on the project that has additional information about plans for greenspace enhancement and protection, as well as information on the purpose and vision for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, according to a press release.
The Atlanta Police Foundation is constructing an 85-acre police/fire training facility located in DeKalb County’s South River Forest, called “Cop City” by activists. The location has historically been the Old Atlanta Prison Farm site.
Dickens and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, on Jan. 31, announced an agreement to ensure the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center will protect and enhance the environment, spur local business and serve as a community resource.
The memorandum of understanding for the project includes 10 recommendations from a community advisory committee, some of which are adding an entrance on Constitution Road, adding public parking, lighting and sidewalks, replacing any trees removed with 100 new hardwood plantings on the site, adding a 100-foot natural buffer and eliminating the proposed explosives range.
The new task force will complement the work of the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee, which will continue to provide direct dialogue with neighborhoods near the site of the future training center.
The approximately 40-member South River Forest and Public Safety Training Center Community Task Force will be tasked with providing recommendations to Atlanta in four key areas related to the training center and future greenspace site:
– Parks and greenspace
– Visioning, memorializing, and repurposing the former Atlanta Prison Farm Site
– Sustainability and resilience
– Police, fire and E-911 training curriculum
The city will also engage the task force for their input on issues including ongoing community engagement, consideration of the site for potential memorials or other community recognition, and additional community uses of the property.
Dickens plans to name the task force members this month and seek an initial set of recommendations by July.
Through engagement with the Community Advisory Stakeholder Committee, Atlanta has made several updates to its plans, including:
– Adding a minimum 100-foot tree buffer along the residential-facing aspects of the facility;
– Adding additional community uses including a pavilion and accessible meeting spaces;
– Moving the planned firing range to the southern portion of the site, closest to the industrial park and away from residential areas;
– Removing explosives training and ordnance disposal from the site;
– Adding several measures to decrease acoustic impacts of the site, including adding additional baffling around the firing range;
– Moving the main entrance to Constitution Road to alleviate vehicular traffic on Key Road;
– Adding sidewalks along Key Road for pedestrian traffic;
– Adding security cameras, license plate readers, and streetlights around the site; and
– Adding public parking to the site for trail and green space access.
Police officers shot and killed Manuel “Tortuguita” Esteban Paez Teran, 26, on Jan. 18 near an 85-acre police/fire training facility located in DeKalb County’s South River Forest. Activists call it “Cop City.” A State Trooper was also shot and wounded. Police allege Teran had a gun and have provided evidence that Teran purchased a gun in 2020.
The Georgia Bureau of investigation is investigating the shooting.
Several law enforcement agencies are part of a multi-jurisdictional task force working to remove activists from the property.
The task force members are: GBI — the agency investigating Teran’s death — the Atlanta Police Department, the FBI, the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, the DeKalb County Police Department, the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, the Georgia State Patrol, and the Department of Natural Resources.
On Jan. 25, District Attorney Sherry Boston recused herself from reviewing the results of the GBI’s investigation into Teran’s shooting and death due to her office’s involvement in the task force. But the GBI doesn’t plan to step aside and will continue leading that investigation.
Democrats in DeKalb County’s state legislative delegation have mostly refrained from asking the GBI to turn over the investigation to another agency.
State Sen. Gloria Butler, Senate minority leader, said she is waiting for more information about the Jan. 18 incident.
“As this information comes to light, I, along with my colleagues in the GA Senate Democratic Caucus, will be in a better position to make recommendations on policies and changes that might be needed,” Butler said. “We owe it to our constituents to keep them safe and are in conversation with the Mayor’s Office and others to understand how best to do that. I expect there will be a robust and impartial investigation by the GBI into the tragic shootings on January 18th, and I hope the results will provide answers to painful questions.”
State Rep. Long Tran said, “I have not been presented with a reasonable reason for them to step aside.”
He added that there seems to be a split opinion among those who live near the site.
“Some residents would like to see a more commercial development that would include grocery stores,” Tran said. “Other residents would like to see the training facility built to reduce crime and spur economic development. The overall message I understand from all the residents is the need to reduce crime, bring in economic development to meet the needs of the area like a grocery store.”
A new police training center is needed, whether located in the South River Forest or not, he added.
“Training and recruiting new officers to better protect the public, improve their ability to de-escalate nonviolent situations from becoming violent is needed,” Tran said. “The Atlanta Metro population will continue to grow, but we also have officers leaving the force from retirement and other reasons. The need to recruit more officers must be addressed. The leaders of Atlanta have tough decisions to make.”
State Sen. Gail Davenport said she’s open to the idea of the FBI taking over the investigation from the GBI. Both agencies are on the task force responsible for removing activists from the site.
“Since the public outcry is rather strong regarding the death of 26-year-old environmental activist … it might help ease tensions to bring in the FBI to lead the investigation,” Davenport said. “While the inquiry continues, we will keep Mr. Teran’s family and the family of the State Trooper in our prayers.”
She also believes the project is needed, but is aware of the many concerns that have been raised.
“However, I’m aware of concerns from existing communities and want to see various recommendations made by the committee (according to the AJC dated Feb. 9, 2023) – relocating the firing range away from residential neighborhoods, removing a planned explosives range altogether, and moving the primary entrance off Key Road – adhered to,” Davenport said.
Editor and Publisher Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this story.
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