Atlanta public safety training center construction continues amid legal battle over petition process
A legal battle over the petition process seeking to put the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center to a public vote continues to move forward. So does construction of the $90 million complex.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled Dec. 14 to hear oral arguments in the city of Atlanta’s challenge of a federal judge’s ruling to allow DeKalb County residents and others not living in the city to collect signatures as part of the Vote to Stop City Coalition referendum petition drive. The ruling also restarted the 60-day clock to collect signatures, extending the deadline to submit them to the city from Aug. 21 to Sept. 25.
While the battle over the training center plays out in court, construction of the 85-acre facility in the South River Forest advances. Mayor Andre Dickens told the Buckhead Young Republicans on Oct. 19 that the training center is nearly 40% complete and vertical construction is set to start in January.
City’s legal fight against Stop Cop City referendum petition drive
Organizers of the Vote to Stop Cop City Coalition submitted what it says are more than 116,000 signatures to the city’s municipal clerk on Sept. 11, but were told the city would not verify the signatures.
The city’s legal team said the Sept. 1 decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to stay U.S. District Court Judge Mark H. Cohen’s July 27 ruling allowing non-city residents to collect signatures meant petitions had to be turned in by the original Aug. 21 deadline.
The city agreed to hold the boxes of signatures at City Hall until a final ruling by the 11th Circuit. The city clerk also posted the signature petitions online.
The proposed referendum would allow voters to choose if they want to repeal the ordinance that authorized the lease of roughly 300 acres of South River Forest land to the Atlanta Police Foundation for construction of the training center.
Mayor Dickens, other city officials and state officials have called the petition drive “invalid” and “futile” in court documents.
Construction of training center ‘moving forward’
The ongoing legal fight has not stopped construction of the training center on 85 acres of the South River Forest. The training center’s site is on city-owned land off Key Road, where the Old Atlanta Prison Farm is located.
Mayor Dickens told the Buckhead Young Republicans organization that the training center’s water and sewer system is finished and asphalt is expected to be poured by Thanksgiving, he said.
“We’ve got a whole public safety training center out there that’s happening,” he said. “So, we’re moving forward.”
An Aug. 24 photo of construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. Mayor Andre Dickens said construction on the complex’s buildings is expected to begin in January. (Dyana Bagby)
The Buckhead Young Republicans voiced support of the training center as “common sense” and asked the mayor what he had learned from the Stop Cop City activists.
“The thing I learned is that we have got to get ahead of the narrative,” he said.
He said when George Floyd was killed by police in 2020 and there were major protests in Atlanta and across the country, there was a call for police to have more anti-bias and de-escalation training.
“We started doing something about training and we started building a training facility and people started saying, ‘You’re spending money on the wrong thing,'” he said.
The new training center is for firefighters and police, he said. Both departments have been training in buildings that are in poor condition and have been forced to travel to facilities in other counties hours away.
He said when the public safety training center issue was “labeled as just a thing for the police” he knew the narrative “got way gone.”
“It affected me personally and it still does,” he said. “I want them to see that this center is for them, is for all of them, for all of us.
“I realized I got older … because I can’t tweet back as fast, I can’t put together a TikTok that competes with what they’re saying as fast. I can’t control it,” Dickens said.
He also asked the roughly 50 attendees to be advocates for the training center “on the behalf of the common sense folks.”
“I invite all of you to help us be able to translate the importance of public safety, the importance of our community having well trained police officers and firefighters,” he said.
“I might not be doing the best job of [communicating this] to everybody, so I need people that are young to talk to the young folks.”
This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with RoughDraft Atlanta.