The Atlanta City Council voted early Tuesday to approve $31 million in public money for construction of a police and fire training facility, dubbed “Cop City” by opponents, following a marathon 16-hour meeting that saw hundreds of people voice their opinion.
The facility has been a point of contention since its conception by residents who feel there was little public input, conservationists who worry it will carve out a chunk of much-needed forest land and activists who say it will militarize police forces and contribute to further instances of police brutality.
Dozens of people have been arrested during protests at the site, and an activist, Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, was fatally shot by law enforcement in January as they worked to clear the site, officials said.
The meeting grew tense, with council members calling for a 15-minute recess about nine hours into the proceedings to allow people to calm down.
“People on council have been threatened,” council member Liliana Bakhtiari said.
Citing public safety concerns ahead of the meeting, the city closed many City Hall offices Monday and temporarily banned liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes inside the building.
The meeting, which started at 1 p.m., stretched into the early morning hours Tuesday, when the council ultimately voted to approve the funding, which covers about a third of the $90 million estimated construction costs, the city has said.
The Atlanta Police Foundation, a multimillion-dollar nonprofit that supports the Atlanta Police Department, has pledged the remaining money, which will come from philanthropic initiatives, a private loan and new market tax credits, the city said.
The approved resolution also includes a leaseback agreement between the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Police Foundation of $1.2 million over 30 years. That money “will exclusively be used to cover the center’s operational and maintenance expenses, as well as the principal and interest of APF’s $20 million loan,” according to a news release from the city.
Mayor Andre Dickens called the public funding approval a “major milestone.”
“Atlanta will be a national model for police reform with the most progressive training and curriculum in the country,” Dickens said in a statement.
The training center is set to be built on forested land that used to be a prison farm.
The land sits outside Atlanta city limits but is owned by the city. That means residents who live near the site don’t have voting power for the leaders who approved it.
In 2021, the Atlanta City Council approved a ground lease agreement with the police foundation that called for 85 acres of the land to be turned into the training center, with another 265 acres maintained as green space, the city said at the time.
The center is expected to include a shooting range, a burn building and a mock city “for real world training,” according to the foundation’s website.
Leaders of the “Stop Cop City” movement – which covers a coalition of groups, activists and organizers – see the project as a response to the 2020 uprisings over the police killings of Black Americans and say the center will militarize police and promote violent policing tactics, especially on communities of color.
Activists have also pointed to the environmental impact of the facility, including more than a dozen environmental organizations that urged city leaders in 2021 to reject the training center’s development, saying it would be “devastating for the ecological community” and surrounding “historically marginalized” neighborhoods.
Supporters say the new facility will help boost police morale and recruitment efforts. The center will focus on “community-oriented” police and set a national standard for “neighborhood sensitivity and devotion to the civil rights of all citizens by law enforcement,” the foundation said, noting green spaces and other facilities will be open for public use.