Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens holds a press conference on his first year on Feb. 1, 2023. (FOX 5)
ATLANTA - Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens sat down with members of the press to discuss his first year in office. One of the topics dominating the conversation was the controversial "Cop City" Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. Dickens says like many residents, he has been on board with the plan from the start.
"More Atlantans are for the public safety training center than people will against it and at a higher amount of people that are for it," the mayor said.
Tuesday, the mayor and DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond announced an agreement over the $90 million planned first responder training facility that they say would protect and enhance the surrounding environment, spur local business and job development and serve as a community resource.
"So I would like for anybody that disagrees with it to look at the facts that we've laid out on the website, you'll be able to see all of the benefits," the mayor said.
WHAT IS THE 'COP CITY'? FUTURE ATLANTA PUBLIC SAFETY TRAINING CENTER
Atlanta mayor backs approval of police training facility
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Thursday she is behind the city's approval to lease land for a training facility for police officers. The project has been at the center of protests by activists who say law enforcement doesn't need additional funding.
It would develop 85 of the more than 380 acres for the facility, while cultivating the remaining land as protected green space which would include walking trails, ballparks, and picnic areas. It also would replace several hardwood trees that would be felled for the project.
"There are six Atlanta neighborhoods and six DeKalb County neighborhood leaders that are a part of that community stakeholder agreement that also meet routinely. And they came up with came up with recommendations such as sidewalks, such as 100 foot tree buffer, such as the moving of the firing range and some other things. They asked for those things and those things were agreed to," the mayor said. "So community input has been received specifically by the communities that are adjacent to the Public Safety Training Center and not from individuals that don't live in Atlanta, don't live in the camp, and actually sometimes don't even live in Georgia."
While the project is being headed by the Atlanta Police Foundation, other first responding agencies, like the Atlanta Fire Department, would also use it for training.
"We all said in 2020 that we want better trained police on 21st Century tactics of deescalation, of conflict resolution, of community based policing," the mayor said. "As we all marched and talked about, we needed this, you know, all of the policies that we put together that 8CantWait, the deescalation that no choke holds and no shooting and moving cars by police. The announcement before you take action as a police officer, the, I mean, all these things were successfully implemented during my time on the city council and now being carried out as mayor. I see the Public Safety Training Center as just another progression in the ability of us to have public safety delivered and training for our current officers, our recruits"
AGREEMENT REACHED TO MOVE FORWARD WITH APD TRAINING FACILITY WITH ENVIRONMENTAL, COMMUNITY PROTECTIONS
The center would be used for community watch program training and citizen police academies. It also will be rented out to other area agencies for training purposes.
"Everybody knows that you have to do that kind of work somewhere in a facility in order to train police officers, in order to have the firefighters learn how to drive emergency vehicles, large scale ladder trucks and engines. They don't just learn how to drive these things because they got a regular driver's license. They have to go practice this stuff," the mayor said. "And right now, they drive an hour out sometimes to be able to get space to do this. And they've been doing it in parking lots of shopping centers. And now these shopping centers have said, ‘You just can't do it here anymore because the weight of your equipment has started to crack our concrete.’ And so they're saying figure out your own next move."
WHY IS THE ‘COP CITY,’ ATLANTA PUBLIC SAFETY TRAINING CENTER SITE CONTROVERSIAL?
Demonstrators protest the "Cop City" Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. (FOX 5)
The proposed training center drew the ire of anti-police groups, forming the "Stop Cop City" movement, a loose alliance of various special interest groups that oppose the development of a training facility. Those groups have also recruited some environmentalist groups to oppose the site, something the mayor noted.
"Then others that will talk about environmental concerns, what they burned tires out there. You can't be a good environmentalist if you burn tires and let that seep into the Entrenchment Creek. You're not a good environmentalist if that's your weapon of choice, is fire, burned tires," the mayor said.
Dozens of arrests have been made on the property from trespassing protestors, a majority of which authorities say were from out of state, since the site was approved by the Atlanta City Council in 2021.
Video shows 'Molotov cocktail' thrown at officers
Atlanta police released video of what they call a "Molotov cocktail" thrown while a group of protestors was occupying the so-called "cop city" site, a future Atlanta police training facility.
Encounters between police and those protesters have, at times, turned violent. In May 2022, police released video showing someone throwing a rock and an apparent "Molotov cocktail" at law enforcement. Demonstrators deny the accusation.
"So, as this project gets developed, we're going to make sure that people are safely going to be safe on the streets of Atlanta," the mayor said.
Over that same summer, various acts of vandalism have been attributed to protestors by area residents, including the vandalism of a security camera in the Boulder Walk community.
In December 2022, five people were charged with domestic terrorism for throwing rocks and bottles at police cars and EMTs along Bouldercrest Road. Protestors would later accuse police of using plastic bullets and pepper spray while arresting multiple protestors.
Trooper shot, protestor killed near planned Atlanta police training facility ‘Cop City’
A Georgia State Patrol trooper was shot and a protestor killed during what the GBI director called a "clearing operation" at the controversial "Cop City," the future home of the Atlanta Police Department’s first responder training facility.
In January, a second attempt to clear the land of protestors would end in a deadly encounter. A Georgia State Patrol trooper was shot and a protestor, who law enforcement identified as 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez, was killed. Investigators say a forensic ballistic analysis confirmed the remains of the bullet pulled from the trooper’s body during surgery was fired from a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm recovered at the scene. Investigators said the gun was used by the slain protestor.
Seven people were also charged with domestic terrorism.
"The mayor doesn't charge anybody with any. So the police and the DA make the charges. And so if you are destructive, if you are harmful to people, then you're going to get fair charges related to those things," the mayor said.
"I saw people smashing out taillights of cop cars and windows," witness says
A witness to a riot that broke out during a protest in downtown Atlanta told FOX 5 he saw people smashing taillights and windows of law enforcement vehicles.
That weekend, protests over Teran's death turned violent with demonstrators smashing windows and setting a police cruiser on fire. A total of six people were arrested.
"And they could peacefully protest, but they won't be allowed to destroy things or harm people or destroy things that are in the proximity of harming people. Because if you set a police car on fire, and it explodes around people, people can be hurt," the mayor said. "So, we're very clear about the rules of engagement. Peaceful protest is very much allowed in the city of Atlanta, historically and now, but destruction and damage and violence is not."
ATLANTA RIOTS TIMELINE: HOW 'STOP COP CITY' MOVEMENT LED TO VIOLENT NIGHT IN DOWNTOWN
Mayor Dickens also noted that those opposing the training facility have not fully outlined their argument, comparing it to how the city has been open about its plans.
"So, I would say that when I consider who's credible, I will say that when we present our facts, we present them in a forthright way on paper. And I like for them to look at those and actually make an acknowledgment of all the hard work that everybody from arborists and to community stakeholders they have put in," the mayor said.
Protester-police fight continues in 'Cop City' after five charged
Five people are facing domestic terrorism charges due to accusations about their method of protest along a planned site for what critics call 'Cop City'. Both sides claim the other is using violent tactics.
The mayor says he doesn’t believe there are currently any protestors on the site, but admits "it is a large amount of land." He says Atlanta Police will continue to partner with DeKalb County Police and state law enforcement partners to ensure the land is safe for construction to begin.
"The recent protests have not delayed a start of the public safety training center and now that we have the permit, we can begin whenever we are ready with construction," the mayor said.
No exact date has been set for construction to begin.