A photo of the Atlanta City Seal outside the Atlanta City Courthouse on Monday, October 11, 2021. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice

The Atlanta City Council voted Wednesday evening to approve the proposal to lease land in unincorporated DeKalb County to the Atlanta Police Foundation to build a training facility for police and firefighters.

City leaders initially proposed building the massive training facility on 300 acres in DeKalb County, where a police firing range is already located on a piece of the property.

The project is projected to cost around $90 million.

According to city officials, the first phase of the facility will be privately funded from the Atlanta Police Foundation. The City of Atlanta will pay $1 million per year on a 30-year lease, according to terms.

However, city council tabled a vote on a controversial state-of-the-art training facility on August 16th, stating public engagement on the matter was poorly executed.

Michael Julian Bond, Matt Westmoreland, Andre Dickens, Cleta Winslow, Marci Collier Overstreet, Joyce Sheperd, Dustin R. Hillis, Howard Shook, J.P. Matzigkeit and Andrea L. Boone voted for the measure. Antonio Brown, Jennifer Ide, Carla Smith and Natalyn Mosby Archibong voted against it. Amir Farokhi was absent.

“We now see the manifestation of what happens when the government moves ahead of the population that is trusting them to keep them engaged,” Archibong said. “This facility will not be built for another couple of years. To conflate the issue of building this facility with an automatic reduction in crime is irresponsible.”

Additionally, the vote was scheduled for Tuesday but was pushed to Wednesday night in order for the Council could listen to 1,000 comments called in by residents, totaling 17 hours. Opponents desired to see the land preserved as greenspace and worry the development would disturb nearby neighborhoods. While the majority of the comments urged the council to vote against the plan, a vocal minority said a new training center is necessary to combat concerns about crime.

A member of that minority is Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. In a statement, Kemp said the Atlanta City Council is in a “unique position” to greenlight the facility. His statement read in part:

“Increasing training and support for public safety personnel has united all sides of the political spectrum here in the Peach State in the past, and at a time when residents in our capital city are being plagued by a drastic rise in violent crime, I am encouraging the council to promptly approve this facility.”

Ironically, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms supported the measure. She issued the following statement:

The new Public Safety Training Facility is another step in our Administration’s efforts to support our fire and police officers, while also focusing on sensible reform. This training facility will not only help boost morale, retention and recruitment of our public safety personnel, but will give us physical space to ensure that our officers and firefighters are receiving 21st century training, rooted in respect and regard for the communities they serve. We will continue to work with the impacted communities on how to best thoughtfully develop and preserve the surrounding property.”

The facility will be located on the old Atlanta Prison Farm property on Key Road in DeKalb County, which is owned by the city. Plans call for a mock-up of a town, a firefighting “drill tower,” emergency vehicle operations course (EVOC), classroom space, a firing range, space for ordinance disposal, and space for a helicopter to land in case of an emergency.

A photo of the Atlanta City Council chambers on January 7, 2019. Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...