Tacked onto the funding package City Council passed early Tuesday morning for Atlanta’s $90 million public safety training center is a long list of substantive new requirements for how it will operate.
The amendments were added to the deal in the last moments, after hundreds of people opposed to it spent more than 14 hours of public comment speaking out. And the changes were made minutes before Atlanta City Council voted 11-4 to approve some $67 million in public money toward the project.
The amendments were an attempt to address many of the most common concerns listed by opponents.
Among them: Outside groups won’t be able to use the center without council approval. No explosives or helicopters will be allowed on the site.
Development of the east Atlanta facility will be limited to 85 acres and will not encroach on the 265 acres dedicated for public greenspace, according to the amended deal. Plus, the city will seek to acquire and protect at least 85 additional acres in the South River Forest area for public access.
Meanwhile, the council’s ordinance also requires de-escalation and anti-bias police training, best practices for responding to people with severe mental illnesses, emphases on protecting free speech and the right to peacefully dissent and on tackling gang and gun violence, including mass shootings.
Councilman Amir Farokhi read those amendments aloud to his colleagues minutes before voting with 10 other council members in favor of the measure.
“The amendments should offer clarity to the public as to the direction and intent that we want to see the training center evolve,” he said by phone afterward. “There is still room for improvement, and I think the mayor and council will work together on that.”
The council’s vote clears the way for Atlanta to contribute a $31 million one-time payment toward construction, plus annual $1.2 million payments over 30 years.
Separately, the council approved a resolution requesting that the Atlanta Police Foundation add two seats on its Board of Trustees. Those members would be named by the council.
Councilman Alex Wan said that move could help put people on the board who are “accountable to the public” and who could help the council get information and “track progress and ensure compliance.”
The project has roiled city politics for many months, and the amendments seemed to do little to sway opponents to it.
Supporters argue it will improve police training and help boost property values around the site, which sits east of Atlanta, west of the Gresham Park neighborhood, north of Interstate 285 and south of Interstate 20.
Opponents argue the construction is already damaging the environment and that the center could change the area’s character and displace local small businesses. They say the money should instead be spent on fighting poverty by providing jobs and affordable housing.
As Council President Doug Shipman announced the final vote total Tuesday, opponents booed and chanted “the whole world is watching!” and “cop city will never be built!”
James Woodall, public policy associate for the Southern Center for Human Rights, said his center was grateful for the amendments and resolution the council approved Tuesday. But, he said, the center remains concerned about how the project would be funded.
“We are not making a judgement call on the fact that there is a need for training,” said Woodall, the former state president of the Georgia NAACP. “But we are suggesting in this moment that this agreement is not about training at all. It has everything to do with bad public policy on the part of the city of Atlanta.”
The Atlanta Police Foundation referred questions to the mayor’s office, which issued a statement Tuesday. The council’s vote, Mayor Andre Dickens said, helps the city “look towards the north star of leading the country in anti-bias training, de-escalation techniques and other community-based solutions to keep our city safe and focused on our citizens.”
“Atlanta will be a national model for police reform,” he said, “with the most progressive training and curriculum in the country.”