All these trees will be bulldozed down to build the police training center.
Joe Santifer, President of Netwise, Information Technology Consulting researched other police training centers by the number of police officers and size or acreage of training centers, and here is what he found. The statistics came from the World Atlas.
New York City has 36 thousand police officers and a combined training center of 32 acres.
Los Angeles has 10 thousand police officers and their training center is 21 acres.
Chicago has 12 thousand police officers and a combined training center of 32 acres.
Philadelphia has 6 thousand police officers and their brand new police academy is 6 acres and their fire department trains at the airport on 3 acres.
Atlanta has 2 thousand police officers and they originally wanted 150 acres of the old Atlanta Prison Farm. Recently, maybe because it’s so unpopular with the Southeast community, they have reduced their size to 85 acres on the highest elevation of the Prison Farm property.
The current APD plan would be one of the largest training centers in the country. Do they really need that much land in a residential neighborhood that does not want them?
How do Training Centers Affect Crime in Cities
New York City, population 8.8 million, opened a new training center in December 2015. After four years the number of violent crimes DECREASED by 0.8%
The number of violent crimes (murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, felony assault) in 2016 was 22,,620 In 2020 the number of violent crimes decreased 0.8% to 22,422.
Statistics from NYPD Crime Statistics
Philadelphia, population 1.6 million, opened a new training center in September 20015 and after four years the crime INCREASED by 15%.
The number of violent crimes in 2016 was 9,067. In 2020 the number of violent crimes increased by 15% to 10,481.
Statistics from Philadelphia Crime Statistics
Montgomery County Maryland (outside DC) population of 1 million opened a new training center in the fall of 2016 and four years later the number of violent crimes INCREASED by 2%.
The number of violent crimes in 2017 was 1,547. In 2020 the number of violent crimes increased to 1,583 an increase of 2%.
Statistics from Montgomery County Crime Statistics.
As you can see from these three examples, new training centers do not reduce crimes in a community.
A Tour of the Forest with a Retired Arborist
Stephanie Coffin, a retired arborist, and this reporter toured a small part of the forest with Joe Peery. We walked in the heart of the area where the police training center plans to build, which is one of the higher elevations in the forest.
“The forest has a complete canopy so that when anyone steps just two feet inside the forest, a totally different environment is experienced – it feels like soft magic.” Coffin said
We saw some beautiful, huge, ancient red oaks, white oaks, and water oaks that survived land disturbance over the years. One red oak measured 41″ at DBH (Diameter at Breast Height) and some of the other white oaks were just as large. Lots of medium and small oaks and pine trees between 10-20″ DBH. There were also invasive species including Bradford pears and Mulberry trees but no kudzu.
Peery, who walks the entire forest with his dog Butters almost daily, said, “There are many larger trees at other high elevations in the forest.”
“That is the reason why a tree inventory is needed to identify the larger trees and their condition. I urge all parties and our City Council to wait until an inventory is completed of all the trees and ground cover before a rush to demolish is begun. We will not have another forest like this in the city – ever,” Coffin cautioned.
Atlanta City Council (ACC) Voted to Preserve the Prison Farm’s Green Space in Perpetuity
The South River Park is part of the Atlanta City Design that the Atlanta City Council voted to preserve for greenspace in 2017.
This green space in southeast Atlanta is our last chance for a massive urban park inside the perimeter of Atlanta. It would include the 300+ acres on Atlanta Prison Farm, the 200+ acre scenic wetlands of Constitution Lakes, the 200+ acre Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve, the 200+ acre Southside Park and the nearly 200 acres Live Oak Landfill.
This is a core tract of forest to be protected in perpetuity as passive green space for the urban forest and ecological habitat restoration to protect the Intrenchment Creek and South River watersheds for the development of an alternative transportation corridor and for future public recreational usage. This area is an essential resource for Atlanta’s climate resilience.
The city plan calls for outward connections from the South River Park to the airport, Atlanta BeltLine, Grant Park, South Bend Park, Lakewood Fairgrounds, and Arabia Mountain. This will make the south end of town an enormous new eco-connected environment.
But this beautiful plan to save the lungs of Atlanta as greenspace for future generations has been put in jeopardy by Mayor Bottoms and the Atlanta Police Foundation’s decision (without any public input) to build a police training center on the old Prison Farm property.
Much of the forest lies in unincorporated DeKalb County, which means the Atlanta City Council is making decisions about a neighborhood that has no representation on the council. Public comments to the council from residents in Southeast Atlanta overwhelmingly said they support keeping the forest and did not want a police training center at that location.
The ACC will vote on the future of the old Prison Farm on September 7.
The Police Training Center and Options for Other Locations
Many people support a new police training center but not at the expense of green space that can’t be replaced. There are other places for a training center without destroying the city plan for that area or the trees.
The police really don’t need that much land and Buckhead has treeless space and that is the one part of town that really needs and wants a police training center. Almost half of the public comment calls into Atlanta City Council that supports a police training center were from Buckhead residents.
Greenbriar Mall is another location that is an empty treeless space and it is close to the Metropolitan State College where police are already taking classes.
Metropolitan State College is another location that would be ideal for a police academy. It would offer an opportunity for police officers to finish a 2 or 4-year degree in criminal justice.
The Mounted Police are now located close to Grant Park and they like it there and the community likes them. So why move to where they are not wanted.
Atlanta Police Foundation Members What are Your Environmental Policies
The Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) and Atlanta’s philanthropic community will fund the $90 million dollar police training center with a mix of private and public money
APF has some of the wealthiest and most influential individuals and corporations in Atlanta on their Board.
You can find the names of board members and their corporations on the Executive Board, Board of Trustees, and Young Executive Board in this link:
Do board members know that neighborhoods in Southeast Atlanta oppose the APD training center located on Prison Farm property? Does destroying green space, in the era of climate change, conflict with your environmental policies and solutions, or your corporate values? Do you have all the facts before throwing all this money at the largest police center in the country? What about the needs of the communities?
Some of that $90 million could be better spent on education, job training, healthcare, housing, after-school programs for teenagers, mental health, and addiction clinics in our communities.
Southeast Atlanta Neighborhoods say NO to the Police Training Center Located on the Prison Farm Land.
Resistance to the police training center at the old Prison Farm grows every day. Here are some of the neighborhood associations, and organizations that publicly oppose leasing the land to APD.
South River Forest Coalition is composed of residents, civic, business, neighborhood, and environmental organizations. East Atlanta Community Association, Grant Park Neighborhood Association, and South Atlantans for Neighborhood Development which includes Ormewood Park, Benteen Park, Boulevard Heights, Woodland Hills, Glenwood Park, North Ormewood Park, and Custer- McDonough-Guice – all these neighborhoods have passed resolutions opposed to the leasing of Prison Farm property to APD.
Organizations that oppose the police training facility on the old Prison Farm property are Save the Old Atlanta Prison Farm, Defend the Forest, Survival Resistance, Sierra Club, Rise Up, The Tree Next Door, Trees Atlanta, Stop the Swap, A World Without Police, Defunding APD Refunding Communities, and Community Movement Builders – a Black Community organizing group working on mutual aid projects in Southwest Atlanta.
Other reasons for opposing the police training center are more complex. Nationwide, and in Atlanta, there have been too many killings of unarmed Black men and women by police. This has damaged the relationship between the police and the African American community.
Police departments need to clean up their departments of racist and violent officers. Protecting these bad cops damages the reputation of all the good police officers.
Voices for reform of the police grow louder every year. This is the reason former President Barack Obama created the 21st Century Policing Policies to change the way police are trained and to close the trust gap between the police and people of color.
The call for police reform is loud and demands no more money for the same type of training that does not work.
There is still more to learn about this misguided and ill-advised plan. Atlanta City Council please take your time and listen to what the people want and don’t give away the lungs of Atlanta.
Written and Photos by Gloria Tatum