A Guide to Understanding the Proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, a.k.a. “Cop City” [UPDATE: IT PASSED]

King WilliamsAugust 16, 2021

Atlanta Police Training Facility rendering

Cop City.”

If you’ve been active on Twitter or Instagram the last few days you’ve probably stumbled upon these two words, and the controversy surrounding the proposed new Atlanta Police and Fire training facility.

On this evening, the Atlanta City Council decided to table what will likely be one of the most contentious votes this year regarding criminal justice and policing in Atlanta. The new date is September 7th. And you deserve to be informed.

So here is a guide to understanding “Cop City.”

What is “Cop City”?

“Cop City” is the name given to the proposed new Atlanta Police and Fire training facility by activists in East Atlanta at the Old Atlanta Prison Farm. The site is meant to be an upgraded facility for police, and would include a mock urbanized setting to be used for training, as well as an on-site burn building for the fire department.

What is the old Atlanta Prison Farm?

The Old Atlanta Prison Farm is a former plantation-turned-prison, taken from land stolen from the Muscogee Creek Nation. The site remained an active prison until the ’70s and was still being used for farming until 1995, when the site was officially decommissioned.

Where is “Cop City” on a map?

“Cop City” is located in the southwest section of DeKalb County, encompassing East Atlanta. The area also borders several other DeKalb County neighboring communities, including Gresham Park, Panthersville, Cedar Grove, Conley and unincorporated Decatur. The proposed site would be just behind the Starlight Drive-In on Moreland Avenue, going all the way to Blackhall Studios on Constitution Road and also touching Bouldercrest Road.

What’s wrong with the proposed location?

The proposed location is in District 1, not District 12 where City Councilwoman Joyce Shepherd, the person leading the initiative, isn’t the representative. Shepherd, plus members of the Atlanta Police Foundation, privately worked on the deal and were looking to secure the deal without public input, until the plans were unearthed by DARC and Defend the Atlanta Forest activists. The site, while property of the city of Atlanta, is all located in DeKalb County. 

Why is this Atlanta site a DeKalb problem?

The site has been at the heart of a land dispute between DeKalb County and the city of Atlanta dating back decades. The city of Atlanta has used it as a dumping ground, while the Atlanta Police Department (APD) and Atlanta Fire and Rescue Department (AFRD) sometimes use it for training. The city’s use of the site causes both economic development and environmental problems.

Who supports it?

Councilwoman Shepherd, the APD, APF, and AFRD all support it.

Who opposes?

Prior to today’s vote, the only council members publicly opposed were District 3 Councilman Antonio Brown (who is also running for mayor) and District 1 Councilwoman Carla Smith. Activists groups DARC and Defend the Forest. Longtime Atlanta Prison Farm preservationist advocate Scott Petersen (no, not that one). DeKalb County commissioner Ted Terry, plus the adjacent DeKalb County residents just outside of the area are the biggest opponents. Among others.

What is the status of the current police facility?

The current APD and AFRD facilities are deteriorating. APD is currently renting out space and AFRD has just acquired space from Boeing on Godby Rd. APD hasn’t mentioned any word of a tear down and rebuild on the 32 acres that they already own.

Has APD brought any counter or alternative site proposals?

No. There are currently no proposals from APD to either tear down their current 32-acre site for a full rebuild, nor are there any proposals for a full renovation of their current site. APD would also still own their 32-acre site after being awarded the old Atlanta Prison Farm.

Does DeKalb County have any options?

Not really. The county could take it to court but it’s unlikely to get that far. The city will likely win.  

Why are those 381 acres so important?

Those 381 acres are the last remaining large parcels of undeveloped land within I-285. This includes the nearby Intrenchment Creek Park, a linchpin for a larger regional greenspace, which sits adjacent to “Cop City.” The site could be used for Atlanta’s purported goals of creating affordable housing. Instead, it’s being fast-tracked via a city councilwoman and the APF, without any consideration of the other city departments.

Size matters.

An acre is one NFL-sized football field. The initial plans were to give APD/AFRD all 381 acres of the Atlanta Prison Farm, until activists rallied against the project. It has since been whittled down to 85 acres as of Friday, August 13 — still more than double APD’s current 32 acres. Plus it’s big enough to fit all of AFRD’s current facilities. 

Comparing the size of “Cop City” to other Atlanta landmarks:

The initial 381 acres proposed for “Cop City” would’ve been big enough to fit all of Piedmont Park (185 acres), twice. Even at the protracted 150 acres proposed a month ago, “Cop City” would be bigger than the entire size of Atlantic Station (138 acres). Even at the currently proposed 85 acres, it’s about the combined size of Underground Atlanta (12 acres), the Georgia Aquarium (13 acres), Centennial Olympic Park (21 acres), and Zoo Atlanta (40 acres), including parking lots. You could also choose to fit in all of The Battery Atlanta (74 acres), including parking lots, and still have enough space to add the Woodruff Arts Center (12 acres). 

Comparing the APD facility’s acres to NYPD AND LAPD:

For comparison, APD, even at full capacity of 2,000 officers, pales in comparison to the 40,000+ NYPD officers and the 10,000+ LAPD officers. Yet both the NYPD and LAPD are able to have training facilities at 32 and 21 acres. Meanwhile, the initial plan for “Cop City” included things like a 40-acre horse park, which would be bigger than the current 32-acre APD training facility. 

So is it possible to get both the park space and “Cop city”?

Yes. This isn’t an all-or-nothing scenario. There don’t have to be any losers.

Could “Cop City” move?

Yes. There are several options that could happen, including going back to team up on a joint facility that Fulton County initially proposed. But the APF is intent on taking this section because they have the political advantage over city council. They still could build on their own 32-acre site. 

What does the actual deal look like?

The current estimate is $90 million: $10 per year, for 50-100 years. The amount of land proposed, now 85 acres, is down from the initial 381 acres offered by councilwoman Shepherd. The City of Atlanta would also chip in ⅓ of the price, while the APF will have to find donors to cover the additional costs. There are currently no concrete plans for maintenance and environmental cleanup of the remaining 296 acres, but the city has proposed “giving” 170 acres towards park space. 

Is this going to pass?

Not today; it was tabled. But this is one of the few times where it’s important to let the city council know whether or not you support this.