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Would Atlanta Police Training Center Boost Militarization?

Communities are working to rethink policing. Do we need more training for officers? Different training? Some cities have scaled back police budgets. Many are spending more money in hopes of creating better officers.

One place the debate has taken center stage is Atlanta, where a proposed training center known as "Cop City" has made national headlines. Scripps News explored the pressing concerns associated with this police training center, as the issues unfolding reflect a nationwide conversation.

"People nationally are looking at it a very, you know, ‘cops versus protesters.’ I think it's a lot more layered than that," said Dan Whisenhunt of the Atlanta news website Decaturish. "Well, the big issue is: one, are police not getting decent training? Two, will they get decent training as a part of ‘Cop City’? And three, is that kind of training the kind of training that we want police to have?"

The Atlanta Public Safety Training Center was announced in 2021. The city said it was needed partly to improve old, dilapidated training facilities in Atlanta but also to help train the next generation of law enforcement to be better prepared for emergencies.

"The advocates who are against this project feel that this is basically going to be like a playground to learn how to be more militarized than the police already are," said Whisenhunt. "The city's counter to that is well: ‘You want cops that have better training than the ones that don't, because the cops that have better training are the ones that tend to get into less trouble.’"

The center is expected to cost at least $90 million, with taxpayers footing at least $31 million. The rest of the money will come from the Atlanta Police Foundation and other private entities.

This training center would be one of the nation's largest and most advanced, joining large-scale police training centers already open in New York, Texas, Illinois, and Washington State.

Some 43% of trainees are expected to come from departments outside Georgia.

"You want to provide as much reality as you can to that trainee so that when the police officer goes out, you know, and engages in a real-life situation, that training kicks in," said Dr. Alex del Carmen, a criminologist and Associate Dean at the School of Criminology at Tarleton State University in Fort Worth, Tex.

"The training centers are typically designed to provide tactical training," said del Carmen. "They're not designed typically to engage in community reform assessments or community engagement groups. So, to that end, the community is right in feeling that this sort of further expands the military aspect, or the paramilitary aspect, of policing. Well, on the other hand, I would argue that it also helps them understand what police officers go through, and from the law enforcement side, it will help them do their job better."

Kamau Franklin of Atlanta, who founded the non-profit Community Movement Builders, said the training center shouldn’t be built, period.

"We are opposed to it no matter where it is," said Franklin. "I think it's a false argument and a false narrative that they're building. The cop here in Atlanta that killed Rayshard Brooks by shooting him in the back had over 2000 hours of training. He had cultural sensitivity training. He had de-escalation training. And so, the issue is not the training. The issue is the institution itself."


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