Land clearing is underway in the South River Forest where Atlanta is set to build its new public safety training center, nicknamed “Cop City.” As the community continues to debate the need for the facility, Atlanta City Council members have remained tight-lipped on the issue.
Back on Sept. 8, 2021, the council voted 10-4 in favor of the training facility. Only half of the current council members were in their seats at the time of the vote. The representatives still on the council who voted “Yes” include Michael Julian Bond, Andrea Boone, Matt Westmoreland, Howard Shook, Marci Collier Overstreet, and Dustin Hillis. Mayor Andre Dickens was a council member at the time and voted for the facility; current District 2 rep Amir Farokhi was also on the council but was absent for the vote. None of the members who voted “No” are on the current council.
Between June and September 2021, thousands of Atlanta residents called into public City Council meetings, with many of them opposed to the project. During the 17 hours of public comment, over a thousand people addressed the council; 70% expressed opposition to Cop City.
Following the vote, then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued a statement of support for the measure.
“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,” she said.
Whether the city or the mayor have the power to cancel the lease has been the subject of debate. Atlanta lawyer Alex Joseph told WABE’s Rose Scott that the City Council and the mayor’s office have the ability to cancel the lease at any time without cause. Joseph went on to explain that there could be grounds to cancel the lease based on the fact that the city did not attempt to get a fair market rate to rent the land. The city is leasing the 150-acre property to the Atlanta Police Foundation for $10 a year for 50 years.
So, where do the current council members stand on Cop City? We asked. In fact, Capital B Atlanta reached out to all 16 members, and we received responses from two: Bond and Keisha Sean Waites. Both hold at-large seats, meaning they represent the entire city of Atlanta.
Here’s our breakdown of each member of Atlanta City Council, who they represent, how they voted, and what they’ve said about Cop City.
Doug Shipman — Council President
How Shipman voted: Shipman was not a member of the council during the vote.
What Shipman has said: Shipman did not respond to Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.
When Shipman ran for council president, he provided a written response to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his support for a training facility, but criticized the lack of public input.
“New training facilities are clearly needed for Atlanta Police and Fire & Rescue but the opaque process of site selection and the lack of community engagement has fallen short of what is needed for a project of this importance,” he said. “The environmental impact of the current proposal is also too high given Atlanta has long been lacking in greenspace for a city our size. There is a good solution to be found through a bit more work by all stakeholders and with residents.”
Jason Winston — District 1
Neighborhoods: Boulevard Heights, Capitol Gateway, Chosewood Park, Grant Park, Lakewood, Peoplestown, Rebel Valley Forest, Summerhill
How Winston voted: Winston was not a member of the council during the vote.
What Winston has said: Winston did not respond to Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.
A candidate profile published by Atlanta Civic Circle on Sept. 20, 2021, asked Winston about the planning process of the public safety training center and asked if there was anything he would change.
“I support a bottom-up approach that involves having a substantial community engagement process. I also want to make sure we engage citizens who have not traditionally participated in our neighborhood or NPU meetings, like renters. We must make sure members of the community have a voice in shaping the future of their neighborhoods and that they are afforded an opportunity to benefit from the growth happening in our city.”
Amir Farokhi — District 2
Neighborhoods: Candler Park, Downtown, Inman Park, Little 5 Points, Midtown, Old Fourth Ward, Peachtree Center, Tech Square
How Farokhi voted: Farokhi was absent for the vote.
What Farokhi has said: Farokhi did not respond to Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.
While Farokhi was absent the day of the vote, the AJC reported that he did vote in favor of the proposed lease at an August 2021 Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee meeting.
“While this facility is needed, the facility or the existence of it is not going to solve violent crime in our city, and I think it’s a little bit misleading to say so,” he said. “My biggest concern is how do we preserve as much green space as possible. … There seems to be a lot of wiggle room in the amount of acreage that’s needed for the center to be built.”
Byron Amos — District 3
Neighborhoods: Atlantic Station, Bankhead, English Avenue, Harvel Homes, Home Park, Hunter Hills, Washington Park, West Lake
How Amos voted: Amos was not a member of the council during the vote.
What Amos has said: Amos did not respond to Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.
In June 2022, after vandalism at the offices of Brasfield & Gorrie and an At-Promise center in District 3 were connected to the “Stop Cop City” movement, Amos told the AJC he supported the project and believed some of the recent acts could be considered terrorism.
Jason Dozier — District 4
Neighborhoods: Atlanta University Center, Mechanicsville, Mozley Park, Oakland City, South Downtown, Venetian Hills
How Dozier voted: Dozier was not a member of the council during the vote.
What Dozier has said: Dozier did not respond to Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.
In a tweet sent out on Aug. 12, 2021, Dozier, expressed his environmental concerns with Cop City.
“As co-chair of @IntrenchmentATL, I’m proud to join alongside several environmental justice organizations to urge City Council to vote down proposed legislation transferring 85 acres of the South River Forest to the Atlanta Police Foundation. Rushing this breaks public trust.”
Liliana Bakhtiari — District 5
Neighborhoods: Cabbagetown, East Atlanta, East Atlanta Village, East Lake, Edgewood, Lake Claire, Sweet Auburn, Reynoldstown
How Bakhtiari voted: Bakhtiari was not a member of the council during the vote.
What Bakhtiari has said: Bakhtiari did not respond to Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.
In an open letter this January, Bakhtiari reiterated her opposition to the facility, but noted the tough spot the council is in.
“I was vocal about my opposition while on the campaign trail, and after taking office,” they wrote. “I have been told that Council does NOT have the power to cancel the lease with the Atlanta Police Foundation. We have the power to ask questions, to make recommendations, to pass along the concerns of our constituency, even to make noise, but we cannot cancel this lease.”
On March 7, Bakhtiari told Unicorn Riot that their requests for information about the proposed facility have gone unanswered by the Atlanta Police Foundation.
Alex Wan — District 6
Neighborhoods: Ansley Park, Brookwood Hills, Emory, Lindbergh, Piedmont Heights, Sherwood Forest, Virginia-Highland
How Wan voted: Wan was not a member of the council during the vote.
What Wan has said: Wan did not respond to Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.
Wan told The Emory Wheel in October 2021 that he “probably would have voted for it” for the lease had he been on the council at the time.
He also said he believes the City Council should provide resources and “help drive the strategy of how those resources are deployed.”
Howard Shook — District 7
Neighborhoods: Buckhead Forest, Buckhead Village, Garden Hills, Lenox, North Buckhead Peachtree Heights
How Shook voted: Yes
What Shook has said: Shook did not respond to Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.
Shook spoke about the facility with the Historic Brookhaven Neighborhood Association in February 2021.
“I can’t wait to see it in action,” he said about Bottoms’ plans to address crime in Atlanta, which included building the new public safety training facility.
Mary Norwood — District 8
Neighborhoods: Ardmore, Buckhead, Chastain Park, Collier Hills, Mount Paran, Paces, West Paces Ferry
How Norwood voted: Norwood was not a member of the council during the vote.
What Norwood has said: Norwood did not respond to Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.
In 2017, Norwood, then a mayoral candidate, was asked during a debate about the need for a new public safety training facility.
“I have met with the police foundation, I have seen the plans, and it is a wonderful program to help our police department, fire department, and corrections department,” she said. “I have seen the site where they wish to put it and I will do everything that I can to work with a public-private partnership to make sure that we have those funds in place.”
Dustin Hillis — District 9
Neighborhoods: Bankhead Courts, Blandtown, Brookview Heights, Carver Hills, Collier Heights, Grove Park, Underwood Hills, Whittier Mill Village
How Hillis voted: Yes
What Hillis has said: Hillis did not respond to Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.
In September 2021, Hillis explained his support of the facility to Atlanta Civic Circle.
“Overall, I support the Public Safety Training Center on Key Road,” he said. “A new fire and police training facility is direly needed – not only because of the deplorable conditions of the current classroom facilities, but because those locations do not currently incorporate all training at one location.”
Andrea Boone — District 10
Neighborhoods: Adamsville, Audubon Forest, Carroll Heights, East Ardley Road, Fairburn Mays, Harland Terrace, Westview
How Boone voted: Yes
What Boone has said: Boone did not respond to Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.
Boone spoke about the facility in Atlanta Civic Circle’s 2021 election guide, and said she might have done differently in terms of the city’s approach to zoning for the project.
“The City of Atlanta has a massive zoning ordinance that influences several aspects of Planning. I don’t think there is a one size fits all. I am supportive of a review and refresh of our Planning and Zoning process to make sure we are in alignment with best practices. One approach I am considering is the timing of initial contact with the community. By the time information is shared with the community, the project is very far along from the owners perspective. This has not given balance to either side.”
Marci Collier Overstreet — District 11
Neighborhoods: Ben Hill, Brentwood, Cascade, Campbellton Road, Greenbrier, Niskey Lake, Princeton Lakes
How Overstreet voted: Yes
What Overstreet has said: Overstreet did not respond to Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.
Overstreet discussed the facility in Atlanta Civic Circle’s 2021 election guide.
“The debate about the location of a public safety training center definitely spotlighted the tension over government versus private groups versus citizens, compounded with trails of city planning,” she said. “Going forward, I will continue to advocate for reaching the residents in our communities to be engaged wherever they are. We have quite a large group of hard to reach residents in our city. We must figure out how to capture their thoughts and concerns, especially when the decision changes the landscape of the whole city.”
Antonio Lewis — District 12
Neighborhoods: Adair Park, Blair Villa/Poole Creek, Browns Mill Park, Capitol View, Fort Mac, Perkerson, Pittsburgh, South River Gardens
How Lewis voted: Lewis was not a member of the council during the vote.
What Lewis has said: Lewis did not respond to Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.
While on the campaign trail Lewis spoke to Young Democrats of Atlanta about his opposition, specifically referencing the “blue flu” when in response to two Atlanta police officers being charged in the death of Rayshard Brooks, police officers called out sick en masse.
“[Cop City] is being supported by the same folks that did the blue flu last summer. Two days after Rayshard Brooks was murdered,” he said. “These are the same folks that when we needed police most last year, they did the blue flu and then the Atlanta Police Foundation gave each one of them a one-time shot in the arm of $500.”
More recently, Lewis condemned the Stop Cop City protesters after APD Chief Darin Schierbaum presented the council with videos of fires set near the site.
“If Black and brown people were out there, I’d be out there leading them,” he said. “This is not that. This is anarchy.”
Michael Julian Bond — At-Large Post 1
Neighborhoods: All neighborhoods
How Bond voted: Yes
What Bond has said: “Yes, the construction for the training center should continue to move forward,” Bond told Capital B Atlanta. “Both the Atlanta Police Department and the Atlanta Fire Department are in desperate need of new facilities for training.”
Matt Westmoreland — At-Large Post 2
Neighborhoods: All neighborhoods
How Westmoreland voted: Yes
What Westmoreland has said: Westmoreland did not respond to Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.
In June 2021, Westmoreland expressed his support in an interview with Saporta Report.
“This city absolutely needs a new public safety training center. The current facility is atrocious,” he said. “We haven’t really had the full conversation yet. I’m sensitive to concerns people have raised about the proposed location, and I look forward to the conversation.”
Keisha Sean Waites — At-Large Post 3
Neighborhoods: All neighborhoods
How Waites voted: Waites was not a member of the council during the vote.
What Waites has said: “Without question, an Atlanta police training center must be constructed to recruit, train, and maintain a well-trained, competitively paid police force to combat the out-of-control crime and violence our communities are experiencing right now and to prevent and deter it for the future,” she told Capital B Atlanta.