The city of Atlanta is moving forward with its plan to build a $90 million facility — nicknamed “Cop City” by protesters — to train police and firefighters, despite opposition from environmental activists.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens announced on January 31 in a press conference that the city had signed a memorandum of understanding with Kalb County to build the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.
The move comes shortly after environmental activist Daniel Esteban Paez was shot and killed by police in a gunfight on January 18 that left a state trooper hospitalized.
Paez and fellow activists, known as “forest defenders,” have opposed the construction project since it was approved by the City Council in 2021.
The city has received an array of complaints about the project since its inception, from noise concerns to deforestation and flood risks.
Following Paez’s death on January 21, the situation escalated and the city erupted with violent protests that left a police cruiser on fire and six people arrested and charged with domestic terrorism.
Dickens promised that some environmental protections will be enacted after talks with a community advisory committee.
According to Kalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, the compromise will ensure that certain steps are taken to reduce environmental impact, such as including a 100-foot tree buffer, eliminating an explosives range and preserving green spaces.
In addition, the mayor noted that the complex will be built in an area that was cleared decades ago to be a state prison farm. According to the mayor, the land is currently filled with rubble and invasive species, not hardwood trees.
Dickens also added that the construction will be limited to a 85-acre site, with around 300 additional acres to be preserved as a public green space.
“This is Atlanta, and we know forests. This facility would not be built over a forest,” Dickens assured.
Protesters gathered outside City Hall during the announcement to voice their opposition to the project.
“We don’t want your compromise! Stop Cop City!” they chanted.
Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum and Fire Chief Roderick Smith were supportive of the project. The police and fire leaders say their training facilities are in need of an upgrade, and they hope the new facility will boost morale at their departments.
“The skill that [officers] have to save a life, to stop a crime, to build community trust does not come from a uniform. It comes from training. Realistic, repetitive, first-class, 21st-century training,” Schierbaum said following the news.
The training center will contain classrooms, administration buildings, a shooting range, a driving course to practice chases and a “burn building” for firefighters to extinguish fires. In addition, the facility will house a mock village with a fake home, convenience store and nightclub for police to rehearse raids.
It’s not certain when construction will begin.