$90 million police training center sparks controversy

Carson Bonner, Campus Carrier news editor

Dekalb County will soon be home to a new 85 acre police training facility that will include an auditorium for police and public use, a mock city for burn building training and urban police training, an Emergency Vehicle Operator Course for emergency vehicle driver training, as well as a K-9 unit kennel and training center, according to the center’s website. The Atlanta Police Foundation will build the facility under a lease agreement with the city of Atlanta.

According to former mayor of Atlanta Keisha Lance Bottoms in a press release, the $90 million facility will not only boost morale and recruitment of public safety officers, but will give a space to ensure that officers and firefighters are receiving up-to-date training to better serve the surrounding communities.

“As an agency administrator and someone who believes that training and education is key to individual, professional and department growth, I am always an advocate for training resources,” Berry College Police Chief Ryan Chesley said. “As to this particular facility, I hope that it will be instrumental in providing the necessary updated space to accomplish the training goals.”

The first phase of construction is set to be accomplished by the end of 2023. This phase is the environmental site assessment, which will include topographical mapping, assessing environmental limitations and marking out the areas of land that will be removed for constructive purposes. An archeological and historic preservation study was made to ensure that there would be no destruction of any historic sites, and analysts found no ruins or artifacts of value, thus permitting construction to continue on this site.

“I know from following the topic that the city of Atlanta has deemed this site and this construction project to be the most financially viable option going forward,” Chesley said. “I know the present training center is landlocked so expansion would be difficult. I think that ideally if the city continues to move forward that they will do so in a way that minimizes the environmental impact of the project. I would hope in the end for a facility that aids in the improvement of law enforcement service provision to the citizens of Atlanta and any other locations that are served by training that occurs at this facility.”

The construction of the facility has sparked some controversy, resulting in protests across the state of Georgia, as well as in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. While some are protesting what they feel is increased militarization of police, others are protesting the deforestation that has become necessary in order to clear land for the facility. For more than a year, protestors from Defend the Atlanta Forest and other organizations have set up camps throughout the forest in an effort to stop the building. Their goal is to raise awareness for the environmental impact of the project.

“I remain steadfast in my belief that the desired training can be accomplished without destroying acreage,” board president of the South River Watershed Alliance Jacqueline Echols said in a statement. “Balanced and equitable consideration must be given to the protection of the local ecosystem, the cultural and historical significance of the property and the health and wellbeing of the residents of the surrounding areas.”

On Jan. 18, a protester named Manuel Terán was shot and killed and an unnamed officer was hospitalized with a gunshot to the abdomen. While there is no footage of the altercation, the officer said that he was fired upon first and he responded in self defense. This incident is still under investigation. Terán was one among a number of protestors known as “tree-dwellers” and “forest defenders” who took up residence in the trees as part of their activism. 

“I feel like the protestors are defending a very worthy cause,” Berry Eco Club member and sophomore Katie Jones said. “I believe that 85 acres is overkill, especially considering that New York City’s training facility is only 30 acres. I support the effort to thoroughly train officers to reduce and hopefully end police brutality but 85 acres and $90 million is exorbitant. I believe there are other places that would serve their purpose without having to destroy one of the larger green spaces in Atlanta. It would be a gross misuse of such valuable land.”

The goal for the development of the training facility is to make it as beneficial as possible to the surrounding community while also minimizing environmental impact. There will be about 3,400 acres not being used for the facility, which according to a statement from the Nature Conservancy, will serve a long underserved community not just with new, maintained greenspaces, but with increased environmental resilience.

“I think wilderness in any city is precious,” Jones said. “I do not support the deforestation planned to build the facility. Hopefully after construction, environmental agencies and organizations will continue to push even harder to legally preserve green spaces in and around Atlanta.”

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