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Cop City

Mayor’s Task Force Proposes Community-Centric Changes for Atlanta’s ‘Cop City’

The Dickens administration will make its final announcement on which recommendations it is accepting in early September.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ administration will take 30 days to review the public safety training facility task force’s ideas before announcing which suggestions it will implement. (Getty Images)

A task force assembled by Mayor Andre Dickens has announced its recommendations to make the controversial public safety training center known as “Cop City” more “community-oriented.” 

The group proposes involving community members in developing anti-bias courses and other police training curriculum that acknowledge the “difficult history” of policing in Atlanta.

“[The task force subgroups] all wanted some form of community-led leadership for implementation; they wanted committed, allocated financial resources, and they wanted ongoing monitoring to ensure the implementation of the recommendations,” said LaChandra Burks, the mayor’s deputy chief operating officer.

You can see a full list of recommendations here. The list also includes suggestions about memorializing and repurposing a former prison farm at the site where the center is planned, preserving the natural environment around the site, and connecting surrounding communities to its trails and greenspaces.

Dickens’ administration will take 30 days to review the task force’s ideas before announcing which suggestions it will implement.

“I am deeply appreciative and thankful for their time and commitment to sticking to the charge for developing a vision and action plan around four major areas that will positively impact the forest and the new training center,” Dickens said in a press release on Wednesday, after the task force convened at the RICE Center to present its recommendations to members of his Cabinet and Chief of Police Darin Schierbaum.

Dickens established the task force in April in response to pushback that there was a lack of community involvement surrounding the construction of the training center. 

The mayor’s office and the task force, which included representatives from the NAACP, faith leaders, community members, academics, and local nonprofit organizations, came under fire for lack of transparency after its first meeting on April 19 was held behind closed doors. A day later, a representative from the ACLU of Georgia resigned from his seat, citing the closed door policy and an autopsy report for Manuel Paez Terán, a Stop Cop City activist who was killed in an encounter with law enforcement in January. The report found no gunpowder residue on Paez Terán’s hands, contradicting state police claims that they shot Terán after they fired on them first.

Following backlash to the closed door policy, the meetings were made virtually open to the public and archived online.

A closer look at the recommendations

Task force members were charged with studying and making recommendations in four areas: parks and green space; visioning, memorializing, and repurposing the former Atlanta Prison Farm site; sustainability and resilience; and police, fire, and emergency dispatcher training curriculum.

The police and fire subgroup suggested public safety training programs that include the community and a curriculum that acknowledges the “difficult history with policing.” 

They also recommended the reimplementation of the Atlanta Community Emergency Response team, which provides basic disaster and emergency response training. The group also recommended a number of measures to improve transparency, such as releasing information regarding all officer-involved interactions within 72 hours when possible, and maintaining a detailed database of APD-involved incidents that is publicly available.

The subgroup for visioning, memorializing and repurposing the former Atlanta Prison Farm site recommended education on the history of the site be in collaboration with local schools and universities. Public programming around the Old Atlanta Prison Farm should specifically deal with the impact of incarceration on Black families. They also suggested that cells from a restored prison building be used as a site for art projects related to incarceration and prison reform. 

The parks and greenspace subgroup suggested the city work to integrate the community in the park planning process and facilitate a community organization in the vein of a “Friends of” group who can interface between the city and the wider community. 

They asked for the creation of a master plan that includes ecological conservation and improvement, and the introduction of legislation or an agreement that protects the greenspace from development. They also suggested expanding the trail network, signage, and accessibility for disabled residents to utilize the greenspace.

The sustainability and resilience subgroup recommended programming and financial resources to be put toward addressing community needs. This would include creating career and entrepreneurship opportunities for the local residents as well as supporting community projects and programs (e.g., a community farm, workforce training, and financial literacy education.) They also suggested a community forum to identify the issues that are most important to residents and programs that can be implemented to their benefit.

While the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Police Foundation have said they are moving full steam ahead with the construction of the new training facility, organizers have continued to collect signatures on a petition to allow Atlanta residents to vote on whether to build it.

The task force’s recommendations come less than a week after a federal judge ruled that the city cannot prevent DeKalb County residents from collecting signatures for a referendum to prevent the construction of a training facility. City officials have maintained that the petition for referendum is invalid, and its attorneys have already filed an appeal of the judge’s decision.

However, the activists behind the initiative have modeled their movement on a successful ballot initiative from 2022 that prevented officials in Camden County, Georgia, from purchasing land to build a commercial rocket launch pad near Cumberland Island.

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