Atlanta residents react to reassigning beat officers to guard APD training facility site

Officers from the Atlanta Police Department will be shifting from street duty to guard duty at the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center for an indefinite period of time.

FOX 5 has learned 30 on-duty officers will be stationed at the DeKalb County property every day.

Some homeowners do not think much of the idea, saying they need every officer to be available in their communities.

Opponents of the training center have been protesting for over a year by building platforms in surrounding trees and camping out at the site. They say that the $90 million project, which would be built by the Atlanta Police Foundation, involves cutting down so many trees that it would be environmentally damaging. They also oppose investing so much money in what they call "Cop City," which they say will be used to practice "urban warfare."


After clearing out the area of activists, the Atlanta Police Department is moving in officers to guard the area until further notice, moving from a reactive to proactive stance now that plans have been approved and construction will soon begin.

"We can’t do without 30 officers. There’s no way," said Brad Edmonds, Midtown homeowner.

Those 30 officers are spread across three shifts. Ten officers will be coming from the morning, evening, and overnight shifts.

"That’s a terrible staffing job there," Edmonds said.

Edmonds is a big supporter of the police. This was before and after he needed beat officers to respond to a frightening situation at his home in 2013. An intruder put a gun to his head.

With Atlanta being several hundred officers short, Edmonds told me it is already difficult to get a swift response to many midtown calls.

The officer of the city of Atlanta Police Chief sent FOX 5 a statement which reads:

"Resources assigned to the site consist of officers from every division in the department. Commanders will be closely monitoring crime throughout the city and routinely assessing resource placement to ensure our ability to respond to and address crime elsewhere is not impacted..."

The leader of the Atlanta Police Union respectfully disagrees.

"We just don’t have the manpower to do that. How much do you wear down the law enforcement officers, whether its sergeants, lieutenants, or patrol officers,

Last week, Mayor Andre Dickens says clearing operations have removed all the activists from the property. DeKalb County also came to an agreement with the city, moving construction forward, but there is still no official start time.

Why do they call the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center ‘Cop City’?

The Atlanta Police Foundation, the major force behind the project, officially calls it the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, but for those who oppose it, it is called "Cop City."

According to the foundation, the city of Atlanta has owned an 380-acre tract of land since 1918 when it purchased it from DeKalb County for the purpose of building a prison farm for non-violent offenders. Prison buildings would be built, farm land would be plowed, and pasture land cleared. It remained in use until 1995.

Starting around the mid-1990s, the city began using the land for portions of their training, even housing temporary facilities until the current Public Safety Training Center was completed. The foundation says various portions of the land, to this day, continue to be used by police and firefighters training in weapons, fire fighting, and explosives detection.

A section of the land was also used as a burial site for animals from the Atlanta Zoo at one point, the foundation says. The current Metro Regional Youth Detention Center sits adjacent to the land on the south side off Constitution Road.

While there have been rumors possible human remains or artifacts on the land, the foundation points to an archeological and historic preservation study which found no trace.

The old prison farm land was not at the top of the list when the Atlanta Police Foundations was asked by the Atlanta Police Department and then-Mayor Shirley Franklin to begin outlining what a future training facility should look like. It was only when foundation members began to identify the various training needs, did the site emerge as being a viable location.

One of the biggest challenges was a versatile and dynamic location able to change and grow with the departments needs for the next half-century. Initially, designers were looking at developing 150 acres, but the Atlanta City Council asked them to scale it back to 85 acres. That has become the current plan.

The training center would include a shooting range, classrooms, a mock village, an emergency vehicle driving course, stables for police horses, and a "burn building" for firefighters to practice putting out fires.

What is so controversial about ‘Cop City,’ Atlanta Public Safety Training Center site?   

A big portion of the controversy stems from a non-binding resolution passed by the Atlanta City Council in 2017. With the "City Design Plan," the city was hoping the area would be preserved as green space and become part of a greater effort to renew the South River Forest Basin.

The Atlanta Police Foundation argues that only 22% of the site will be used, and the remaining land can be opened as a public park. A map on the foundation’s website shows the areas around Intrenchment Creek, a tributary and nearby lakes surrounded by greenspace. The design even includes natural trails amid the training facility campus and would like to the link to Michelle Obama Park on the east side.

The current plans show the training campus to the west of high-tension power lines that cut through the property. The remaining property to the east would remain untouched, including the remains of the old prison farm facilities along Key Road.

After five years of the plan being shown to various local civic organizations and undergoing several dozen changes to the plan, it was finally presented to the city council in early 2021. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms would create a site committee to study the plans.

Those plans include leasing the land to the Atlanta Police Foundation for 30 operational years on top of the time needed for development and construction of the site. The foundation would need to raise $60 million to pay for two-thirds of the construction cost. The city would then pitch in about $1 million a year for 30 years for maintenance and operational costs.

During the planning stage, a Community Stakeholders Advisory Committee was created comprised of leaders from the 13 surrounding neighborhoods. The committee stipulated that all environmental laws be followed, and the final construction needed to be LEED-certified. In addition, the foundation pledged to plant 100 new trees.

The foundation also counters environmentalists’ claims that the site would impact "old growth forest." With the site having been clear-cut several times in the last century, a foundation study found fewer than 20 specimen trees.

Series of protests associated with ‘Cop City’

The Atlanta City Council voted in September 2021 to approve the proposal to lease the forested land in unincorporated DeKalb County to the Atlanta Police Foundation to build the facility for first responders.

The measure was approved after being postponed in August 2021. Activists with the "Stop Cop City" movement, said that the training facility would not help the city’s crime problem and further hurt relations between police and communities of color.

"We don’t believe that better-trained police officers is what the solution is to any of this," said Shafeka Hashash, chair of the Atlanta chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. "We in fact believe that if that funding does exist, it should go into community support and actually meeting the needs of community."

In May 2022, Atlanta police said officers arrested multiple people who allegedly threw rocks and an apparent "Molotov cocktail" at law enforcement during demonstrations. 

Protestors denied attacking officers, saying police were intimidating them and suppressing their rights to free speech.

Atlanta Police Department Assistant Chief Darin Schierbaum said no one was injured when someone threw a "glass container with an accelerant inside and a crude ignition device."

Days later, someone broke windows and splashed paint on a sign at Brasfield & Gorrie's office in Birmingham, Alabama.

On a window that said: "Drop Cop City or Else." 

Damage allegedly cost around $80,000. Atlanta police issued a $25,000 reward for information leading to arrests.

The vandals appeared to leave the scene in a white Toyota Prius on 31st Street.

People living in nearby neighborhoods blamed protestors for some vandalism in the area. 

Some people living in the Boulder Walk community said security cameras were knocked over by "Stop Cop City" activists. The neighborhood is near the planned training center.

A couple of weeks later, in August, vandals destroyed a truck of a landowner of a nearby property

In September, firefighters responded to flames on Key Road near Bouldercrest Road. The DeKalb Fire Department confirmed the flames torched some excavating and construction equipment. 

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said five people face domestic terrorism charges, accused of throwing rocks and bottles at police cars and EMTs along Bouldercrest Road.

Protestors said SWAT teams swarmed the woods earlier in the day, shutting down roads for hours. Demonstrators claim police tore down encampments. 

The GBI said the sweep was part of a joint task force "formed to combat ongoing criminal activity" in the area.

"Task force members used various tactics to arrest individuals who were occupying makeshift tree houses," a statement from the GBI said.

A group of protestors opposing plans to construct an Atlanta Police Department training facility in southeast Atlanta accused police of using plastic bullets and pepper spray while arresting multiple protestors.

Marlon Kautz with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which provides legal support for people arrested during protests, said protestors were unarmed and not violent.

"We've seen over the past year or so, during the course of the protest movement against cop city, that the police have been engaging in a deliberate campaign to demonize the protest movement," Kautz said.

Stop Cop City supporters claimed no one was threatening or endangering anyone while they set in "tree sits" conducting a non-violent protest.

"I think slapping them with domestic terrorism is also an attempt to warn other people who are organizing against this, other activists, to be careful and be scared in a way to try and silence our movement," Jasmine Burnett said.

A Georgia State Patrol trooper was shot and a protestor, who law enforcement identified as 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez, was killed. Stop Cop City activists said the person killed was known by as "Tortuguita." 

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 protester.

Officials said Georgia State Patrol troopers do not have body-worn cameras recording encounters, only dash cameras.

Seven people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism. 

A protest following a vigil for the activist's death took a violent turn in Downtown Atlanta.

Following a Friday night memorial service, Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said a crowd gathered Saturday for a peaceful protest at Underground Atlanta. For about an hour, people dressed in black marched along Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta demanding justice.

Schierbaum said on Ellis Street and Peachtree Street, a group started breaking windows and attacking police cruisers.

A total of six people were arrested. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.