Criminal Justice and Public Safety

Cop City and Public Safety in Atlanta FAQ

To help you learn more about the facility widely known as Cop City, as well as the state of public safety in Atlanta, LDF has compiled answers to the most frequently asked questions. This resource includes information about the dangers of Cop City, the community opposition towards the project, efforts to stop it, and more.

What is Cop City?

Cop City, or the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, is a facility planned for construction in Atlanta’s South River Forest. The compound will destroy 85 acres of woodland, and would include a mock city, burn buildings, a firing range, emergency vehicle operator course, and a K-9 unit kennel and training.

Why is there opposition to Cop City?

The negative anticipated impacts of Cop City are varied, and a number of historians, activists, community members, as well as civil rights, human rights, and environmental rights groups, are united in their opposition to its construction. Ahead of a June 5 vote on additional funding for the facility, the Atlanta City Council heard 14 hours of testimony that was largely in opposition. The Atlanta City Council made late minor concessions to those opposing the facility, such as removing a helipad. Among the primary reasons for opposition are:

Militarized Policing

Cop City places Atlanta residents, especially Black residents, at continued risk of contact with militarized policing. Atlanta community members and activists have raised serious concerns that law enforcement will use this facility to train with military-grade equipment and tactics that could subject Atlanta residents to fatal force, the threat of fatal force, police violence and military-grade equipment in the future.

Research has shown that increased militarization of law enforcement agencies leads to an increase in violent behavior by officers. Investing tens of millions of dollars in a facility that will perpetuate militarized tactics rather than address root causes of violence is harmful to public safety in Atlanta. There is also a risk of racialized police violence. Cop City will house K-9 unit training, and K-9 units have historically been used to disparately harm Black people.

Environmental Devastation

At least 85 acres of the South River Forest would be destroyed to accommodate the facility. The South River Forest is a vital resource that has been called the “lungs of Atlanta.” It helps keep Atlanta’s air clean, and it helps prevent flooding in the surrounding majority Black communities.  In 2017, the Atlanta City Council passed an ordinance incorporating the Atlanta City Design, which calls for the South River Forest to be preserved as parkland, which contradicts the construction of Cop City.

Protesters gather in Atlanta in opposition to the construction of Cop City. (Source: Shutterstock)
Protesters gathered in New York to rally against Atlanta Cop City on March 9, 2023. (Source: Shutterstock)

How much does Cop City cost and who is paying for it?

Though estimated costs of the project continually increase, recent estimates place the cost to taxpayers at up to $67 million dollars. The total anticipated cost of the project has been advertised by the City as $90 million but may be higher.

The project is spearheaded by the Atlanta Police Foundation, one of the largest and wealthiest police foundations in the country. The Atlanta Police Foundation is an organization funded by large corporations including Coca Cola, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, UPS, and more.

Are there any concerns about policing in Atlanta?

Available evidence indicates that Black Atlantans, who comprise 48% of the population, are disparately policed. In 2021, 89% of people arrested by APD were Black. 90% of people killed by APD from 2013-2023 were Black. Between 2019 and June 2023, 84% of APD’s incidents of use of force were against Black people.

According to recent investigative reporting, there are also concerns that APD officers are incentivized to issue tickets and citations.

Are there any legal challenges to Cop City?

One lawsuit, South River Watershed Alliance, Inc.  v. Atlanta Police Foundation, challenges the issuance of a land development permit to the Atlanta Police Foundation to build Cop City on the grounds that sediment discharges caused by clearing, grading, and excavating the land will violate state law. An injunction to halt construction of the facility for the duration of the appeal regarding challenges to the land development permit was denied. Additionally, the South River Watershed Alliance filed a Clean Water Act suit for injunctive relief to stop construction because stormwater is discharged into a polluted stream that exceeds the allowable sediment load established by the state to support aquatic life.

What is the history of the land where Cop City is to be constructed?

The history of the Black River Forest is important to Black and indigenous communities in the Atlanta metropolitan area. The land was once home to the Muscogee people before they were forcibly removed to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears. The land then operated as a slave plantation, before becoming a prison labor farm in the 20th century.

Have there been protests against Cop City?

There have been protests across the country, and throughout Georgia, voicing opposition to the construction of Cop City. In 2023, a Georgia State Trooper tragically killed Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, also known as Tortuguita, an indigenous and nonbinary environmental activist who opposed Cop City following a raid into a Stop Cop City encampment located within the South River Forest. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation initiated an investigation, and upon concluding this investigation, provided its findings to a special prosecutor, the Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney, to determine whether charges will be pursued against law enforcement officers involved in Tortuguita’s killing.

Are only Atlanta residents impacted by Cop City?

No. This facility is set to impact those who live in unincorporated DeKalb County near the site even though decisions about its construction have largely been made by the Atlanta City Council.

Four residents of DeKalb County sued the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia to defend their First Amendment rights to collect and attest to petition signatures.  They sought injunctive relief to revise the petition process to allow them to collect signatures pending the result of their First Amendment case. The District Court granted the injunction and has allowed the DeKalb County residents to collect signatures to put the Cop City issue on the Atlanta ballot.  That injunction is currently on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

A memorial for environmental activist Manuel Teran who was killed by a Georgia State Trooper during a raid to clear the Cop City construction site. (Photo by Cheney Orr/AFP via Getty)
Protesters gather in New York to rally against the construction of Cop City. (Source: Shutterstock)

Will Cop City improve public safety in Atlanta?

No. An equitable system of public safety includes being free from police violence and requires addressing the root causes of violence. Cop City will perpetuate our current failed systems of public safety in Atlanta that rely almost exclusively on law enforcement.

There are many in Atlanta who are hungry or experiencing homelessness.  Over 500,000 Atlanta metro residents are in a food desert. Atlanta has the highest income inequality among large U.S. cities, and this income inequality is driven by racial wealth inequities. Race remains a persistent barrier in access to health care.  Our research has shown has shown that increased funding in law enforcement agencies does not reduce homicides while economic instability can contribute to violence. The Atlanta Police Department currently receives one-third of the City’s budget, totaling $235,694,306 in 2023. Atlanta should instead use some of these funds to invest in the health and well-being of its residents as a more effective public safety measure. Atlanta’s city officials should support the people of Atlanta, rather than further prioritizing law enforcement.

In addition, Atlanta city officials should work to advance an equitable public safety system by expanding alternative responders to address public safety concerns such as those deployed by the Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative, institutionalizing restorative justice programs, increasing investments in community resources, and ensuring economic security.

Won't better training facilities for officers improve policing in Atlanta?

No. Training has proven to be ineffective in ending police violence and systemic, discriminatory police practices which undermine public safety. Without stringent policies to limit police interactions and violence, as well as accountability systems to ensure officers comply with policies, training alone cannot prevent police violence or remedy the harms of racialized policing.

Funneling exorbitant sums of city funding into training facilities while key services and needs of Atlanta residents remain unmet is deeply at odds with the health and safety of the Atlanta community.

Should Cop City simply be moved to a different location?

No. A law enforcement training facility of the scope and nature proposed for Cop City is an extraordinary expenditure of public funds that will not advance public safety. Research has indicated that increased policing does not meaningfully address public safety concerns. The public safety harms of Cop City persist regardless of the facility’s location.

Who are the people opposing Cop City?

Local residents and groups in the Atlanta metropolitan area are leading the opposition to Cop City. This broad, Atlanta-based coalition is multi-racial and multi-ethnic and spans all ages. It includes environmental activists, civil rights activists, and indigenous people.

Hundreds of people have made their voices heard – in public hearings, where opposition to Cop City vastly outnumbered those in support; in local and national media; and in the streets of Atlanta.

Why is law enforcement arresting people opposed to Cop City?

Law enforcement agencies are aggressively policing those who oppose Cop City. A taskforce, which includes the Georgia Bureau of Intelligence, the Atlanta Police Department, the Dekalb County District Attorney’s Office, the Georgia State Patrol, and the Department of Natural Resources, was formed to eliminate purported criminal activity in connection with the facility’s opposition. Many demonstrators have been arrested on tenuous grounds, including a legal observer for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Staff members of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a local bail fund, were arrested for supporting protestors that Georgia authorities alleged were “domestic violent extremists.” Notably, the presiding judge at their bail hearing said the State’s evidence to support the arrests was unimpressive.

What is wrong with the Cop City arrests?

Law enforcement has relied on an overly broad domestic terrorism statute to target and criminalize protesters who may be involved in First Amendment protected activity. LDF, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Brennan Center sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) outlining how lax DHS standards and intelligence practices have contributed to troubling arrests and prosecution of individuals associated with the movement to Stop City. The letter further urges DHS to provide full transparency and accountability regarding information it has shared with state and local law enforcement relating to individuals’ activities connected to Cop City.

DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston withdrew from all (approximately 42) cases involving opponents of Cop City due to disagreement with the GA State Attorney General “about who should be charged and what they should be charged with.”

What can I do if I am concerned about Cop City?

A broad coalition of organizers, attorneys, environmental groups, and civil rights groups have launched a referendum campaign that will allow voters in Atlanta to make their voices heard. Learn more about this campaign HERE.

If you’re an Atlanta resident,  let your elected officials know about your concerns. Call City Council at (404) 330-6030. Attend any and all upcoming hearings and participate in opportunities for public comment. Above all, make your voice heard.

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